Ten Nonfiction Projects From First-Time Filmmakers Announced For Gotham Documentary Feature Lab

EXCLUSIVE: The Gotham Film & Media Institute has announced the 10 projects selected for its prestigious Documentary Feature Lab, an intensive program for first-time filmmakers.

“Capturing universal themes, including family, home and the power of personal narrative, this year’s films promise to push out the boundaries of documentary filmmaking with distinctive and original voices,” The Gotham’s executive director Jeff Sharp said in a statement. “We are thrilled to support these amazing creators from around the globe in reaching their intended audiences.”

The lab, now in its 18th year, “supports first-time feature filmmakers over the course of the year through the completion, marketing, and distribution of their debut features, with support from Gotham staff and mentorship from leading industry members and filmmakers.”

The documentary lab is guided by Sabrina Schmidt Gordon, whose producing credits include To the End, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and the 2017 feature documentary Quest, and Maureen A. Ryan, an author, professor in Columbia University’s MFA Film program, and producer with credits including Man on Wire (2008) and Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020).

For the first time, the projects selected for the lab include three – Finding Your Laughter, Prodigal Daughter, and Standing Above the Clouds – from the Expanding Communities program, an initiative “dedicated to providing resources, a community space, and industry access to individuals with Disabilities and Black, Indigenous, PoC, and LGBTQIA+ creators across film, TV, and audio industries.”

The Gotham Labs are supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York State Council on the Arts, and SAGindie. These are the 10 projects and attending fellows to earn a place in the lab, which runs from June 13-17:

  • Black Snow –– A taut and revelatory thriller told through the eyes of a maverick citizen journalist which promises to shine new light on the human cost of coal. Alina Simone (Director, DP), Kirstine Barfod (Producer)
  • Brief Tender Light –– At America’s elite MIT, four African students strive to graduate into agents of change for their home countries. But what changes come from living in two different worlds? Arthur Musah (Director, Producer, DP), Kelly Creedon (Editor), Brook Sitgraves Turner (Co-producer)
  • Finding Your Laughter (Expanding Communities Fellow) –– Comedian Arlieta Hall must learn how to balance her life as an up-and-coming artist with the heartbreak of watching her dad die slowly from Alzheimer’s. She illuminates a pathway to hope, healing, and help for other caregivers to find their own laughter. Arlieta Hall (Director, Writer), Brittany Alsot (Director, Producer, Writer), (Donnie Seals Jr., Editor)
  • Joybubbles –– Joybubbles (1949-2007) was the chosen name of Joe Engressia: a boy genius, blind since birth, who could hack into the analog telephone system by whistling a magic tone. Exploiting weaknesses in early telecommunications with his signature 2600-hz whistle, Joybubbles spent his whole life on the phone: winning hearts, battling demons and eventually, declaring himself to be 5 years old, forever. Rachael Morrison (Director, Writer), Sarah Winshall (Producer), Will Butler (Producer), Patrick Lawrence (Editor, Writer)
  • Made in Ethiopia –– Three women navigate the bumpy expansion of the biggest Chinese industrial park in Ethiopia. Xinyan Yu (Director, Producer), Max Duncan (Director, Producer, DP)
  • Prodigal Daughter (Expanding Communities Fellow) –– As filmmaker Mabel Valdiviezo reunites with her Peruvian family who she had not seen in sixteen years, she must confront secrets from her past that tore her apart from her parents, while battling stage IV cancer. The clock ticking, Mabel must find a way to heal her broken family ties before it’s too late. Art may be her only hope. Prodigal Daughter explores the nexus of family reconnection, mental health, identity, and belonging during anti-immigrant times. Mabel Valdiviezo (Director, Producer, Writer), Sara Maamouri (Editor), Chelo Alvarez-Stehle (Impact Producer)
  • Standing Above the Clouds (Expanding Communities Fellow) –– When the world’s largest telescope is set to be built on their sacred mountain, Mauna Kea, three Native Hawaiian families dedicate their lives to defending it. Through the lens of mothers and daughters, Standing Above the Clouds explores intergenerational healing and the social and emotional labor of retaining ancient ceremonies while putting your body on the line to protect a sacred mountain. Jalena Keane-Lee (Director, Producer, DP), Amber Espinosa-Jones, (Producer), Erin Lau (Producer)
  • Traces of Home –– Filmmaker Colette Ghunim embarks on journeys with her parents to find the ancestral homes they were forced to flee as children in Mexico and Palestine. The intertwining trips unearth familial trauma and her struggle for a sense of home in suburban America. What begins as a desire to connect to Colette’s cultural origins turns into an internal quest to heal her difficult relationship with her parents, and, ultimately, herself. Colette Ghunim (Director, Writer), Capella Fahoome (Producer), Sara Maamouri (Editor)
  • unseen –– unseen follows the story of Pedro, as he aspires to become a social worker. A blind, undocumented immigrant, Pedro faces harsh political realities in the U.S. to achieve his dreams of providing mental health care for the underserved. What starts as a journey to foster the mental health of others, ultimately transforms into Pedro’s path towards his own healing. Set Hernandez Rongkilyo (Director, Producer, DP, Editor), Félix Endara (Producer), Daniel Chávez-Ontiveros (Editor)
  • Untitled Muscogee Nation Documentary –– When the Muscogee Nation suddenly begins censoring their free press, a rogue reporter fights to expose her government’s corruption in a historic battle that will have ramifications for all of Indian Country. Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Joe Peeler (Directors), Jean Rheem (Editor)

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