Firelight Media Documentary Lab Announces Groundwork Initiative in Puerto Rico April 12-14, 2019

2019 Marks the 10th Anniversary of Firelight’s Doc Lab - An Incubator for Diverse Filmmakers

Firelight Media has announced program details for its Documentary Lab’s Groundwork initiative in San Juan, Puerto Rico taking place April 12-14, 2019. The Doc Lab, launched by Firelight co-founders Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith in 2009, is an 18-month fellowship that supports filmmakers of color with mentorship from prominent leaders in the industry, film funding, professional development workshops and networking opportunities. The Groundwork Day Lab, which launched in 2017, is a regional lab initiative that supports diverse, early career documentary filmmakers living and working in underrepresented regions of the U.S. Co-produced with local partners, Groundwork is designed to connect budding local filmmakers with industry leaders and to help position budding local filmmakers with bigger opportunities at a national scale.

Groundwork Puerto Rico will be co-produced with AdocPR (Association of Puerto Rican Documentary Filmmakers) and Sistema TV-WMTJ (a PBS member station located in San Juan). The weekend’s program will begin on Friday with a public screening of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution at the Ana G. Méndez University Theatre, followed by a Q&A with director and executive producer Stanley Nelson, moderated by Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, Founder of The Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute. The weekend will also include workshops, work-in-progress screenings and feedback sessions for the nominated local filmmakers, which will be led in Spanish by Firelight Vice President and Doc Lab Director, Loira Limbal.

“We are thrilled to partner with AdocPR and Sistema TV to support filmmakers living and creating in Puerto Rico during such a critical time,” said Loira Limbal, Firelight’s Vice President and Documentary Lab Director. “Puerto Rico is facing unprecedented challenges due to the economic crisis and Hurricane Maria and these filmmakers are essential to the recovery process.”

It’s already been a landmark year for Firelight Media, starting with its presence at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival where Stanley Nelson premiered Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, his 10th feature to premiere at the fest (a record for a documentarian), along with two Doc Lab fellows’ film premieres – Jeffrey Palmer’s Words from a Bear and Jackie Olive’s Always in Season which won the Special Jury Award for Moral Urgency (US Documentary). Miles Davis will continue to screen at film festivals throughout the spring and Nelson’s next film BOSS: The Black Experience in Business airs April 23 on PBS. 

This year also marks the 10th Anniversary of Firelight’s Documentary Lab and since its inception over 70 filmmakers have gone through the program and more than $650,000 in grants has been spent on 40 documentary projects. More than just a workshop, the Documentary Lab is unrivaled in its representation of diverse filmmakers, creating an exclusive network of talented unique storytellers that receive ongoing support from a project’s conception to its completion.

In all, high profile accolades for past Doc Lab films include over 30 broadcast/distribution deals with POV, Independent Lens, WORLD, OWN, Netflix, and Discovery ID; one Peabody award and several nominations, four Emmy wins and several nominations, and 13 world premieres at Sundance or Tribeca Film Festivals. Documentary Lab alumni include: Dawn Porter (Spies of Mississippi), Deborah Esquenazi (Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four), and Lyric Cabral ((T)error). Recent Doc Lab fellow Yu Gu will premiere her documentary feature A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem later this month at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.

Principal funding for the Documentary Lab has been provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with additional support from the MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Wyncote Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and the NY State Council on the Arts.

To find out more about Firelight’s Documentary Lab and Groundwork Initiative please visit:


Firelight Media was born in 2000 to address the deficit of films made by and about diverse communities, particularly people of color. Founded and led by MacArthur “genius” Fellow Stanley Nelson and award-winning writer and philanthropy executive Marcia Smith in Harlem, NY, the organization has gone on to produce over 25 hours of primetime programming for public television, receive every major broadcast award, and have its first theatrical release (The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution).

Through its Documentary Lab and Impact Producer Fellowship, Firelight is dedicated to developing talented documentary filmmakers that advance underrepresented stories, moving them from the margins to the forefront of mainstream media through high quality, powerful productions.