NEW YORK (April 11, 2022) – NBCU Academy in partnership with NBC News Studios, the NBC News documentary division, have announced this year’s Original Voices fellowships to documentarians who identify as – or showcase stories highlighting social issues affecting – women, LGBTQ+, communities of color, and people with disabilities. Marking its second year, the Original Voices fellowship is an invitation-only opportunity that supports filmmaking teams with new feature-length nonfiction films in all stages of production.
This year, six fellows were selected to receive a $60,000 grant each and a one-year artist development fellowship designed to help each filmmaker with the completion of their films. Fellows will also have access to archival research, production resources as well as executives and journalists across NBC News Studios and the NBCUniversal News Group. In this year’s cohort, the six films feature stories that investigate the tensions of motherhood, worker’s rights, queer history, censorship, mental health, and more.
The 2022 Original Voices film recipients are:
Chain of Rocks dir. Damon Davis – (In Production) – A Death Row inmate confesses to a crime after 30 years of maintaining his innocence. Now, an activist who once fought for his innocence is faced with the moral dilemma of whether the fight was in vain. CHAIN OF ROCKS is an animated feature-length documentary that explores the complexities of race and masculinity and how they skew our worldview and play a role in oppressive systems.
Florence from Ohio dir. Stephanie Wang-Breal (Development) – Filmmaker Stephanie Wang-Breal sets out to cross the generational divide, confronting long-simmering tensions with her Chinese immigrant mother by literally becoming her. Dressing in her mom’s iconic St John Knit power suits and re-creating her 1980s local TV cooking show, Stephanie becomes Beta-Florence, a radical reinterpretation of Asian-American identity.
The Queer Beat dir. Eric Juhola (Production) – The Queer Beat is a collaborative vérité documentary featuring trans, queer and gender non-conforming journalists who reflect on their own identities while working to tell the story of a seminal moment in LGBTQ history. The film follows reporters Kate Sosin and Cristela Guerra as they investigate the still unsolved 1998 murder of trans woman Rita Hester, whose death sparked the creation of the world-wide movement ‘Transgender Day of Remembrance’. Two decades later, they discover new leads amidst a community still grieving and try to answer the question ‘What happened’?
unseen dir. Set Hernandez Rongkilyo (Production) – unseen follows the story of Pedro, an aspiring social worker hoping to provide mental health services for underserved communities. Being a blind, undocumented immigrant, Pedro faces harsh political realities in the U.S., but a network of supporters carries him through a decade’s long struggle to actualize his dream. What starts as a journey to foster the mental health of others ultimately transforms into Pedro’s path towards his own healing and self-discovery.
Untitled Labor Union Documentary dirs. Brett Story and Stephen Maing (Production) – From the perspective of a single Amazon fulfillment center, this documentary is an intimate portrait of current and former Amazon workers taking on one of the world’s largest and most powerful companies in the fight to unionize.
Untitled Muscogee Nation Documentary dirs. Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Joe Peeler (Post-Production) – 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.
This year’s class of Original Voices fellows was selected by a distinguished jury of three independent, critically acclaimed documentary filmmakers: Julie Cohen, Yance Ford and Bing Liu. Jeanelle Augustin is Manager, Film Fellowships and Artist Development overseeing the curation and design of the Original Voices fellowship.
“We are honored to highlight our second annual Original Voices fellows,” said Yvette Miley, Senior Vice President, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for NBCUniversal News Group. “These powerful storytellers demonstrate distinctive directorial vision, integrity, and commitment to equitable filmmaking practices, and we are proud to support and elevate their work throughout their creative process.”
Jeanelle Augustin, Manager, Film Fellowships and Artist Development added, “We are thrilled to build on the first successful year of Original Voices with a new class of filmmakers whose projects exude joy, affirm our interconnectedness, and push the form forwards. We are excited to support films that embrace hybridity, using animation and performance, as well as films that highlight the necessity of free press and the primacy of journalists for a thriving free and open society.”
NBCU News Group is offering this year’s class of Original Voices grantees the opportunity to participate in dedicated impact training workshops, led by the nonprofit organization Peace is Loud and to attend the 65th Flaherty Film Seminar, Continents of Drifting Clouds, programmed by Almudena Escobar López and Sky Hopinka.
In 2021, seven recipients received the Original Voices fellowship, two of which had films that premiered at Sundance 2022: Mija, directed by Isabel Castro, featuring an ambitious Latinx music manager whose undocumented family depends on her ability to discover aspiring pop stars; and I Didn’t See You There, directed by Reid Davenport, and shot from his perspective in his wheelchair as he navigates disability, invisibility, love and spectacle. The film won Davenport the “Directing Award: U.S. Documentary” at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Additional 2021 fellows included director Michael Premo, Sura Mallouh, co-directors Jessica Chermayeff and Ana Veselic, Zac Manuel and the directing team of Silvia Castaños, Estefania Contreras, Miguel Drake McLaughlin, Diane Ng, Ana Rodriguez-Falco and Jillian Schlesinger.
NBCU Academy is an innovative, multiplatform journalism training and development program launched by NBCUniversal News Group in 2021. The initiative provides four-year university and community college students scholarships, education, on-campus training, online programming, funding for accredited journalism programs and access to world-class journalists from NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC and Telemundo News. Currently, NBCU Academy is partnered with 30 schools, including STEM programs, academic universities, community colleges and institutions serving Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions and colleges with significant Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Black, Indigenous and tribal populations – reaching students from underrepresented groups including those from diverse racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, economic, and geographic backgrounds.
NBC News Studios is a full-service production company specializing in premium documentary storytelling for platforms both inside and outside of NBCUniversal. We have access to eight decades of TV and film archive, a global network of journalists, a world-class investigative team, a rich trove of story IP, including top rated podcasts, and true crime expertise. We pair these resources with the top directors and showrunners in the business. Recent projects include: “Diamond Hands: The Legend of Wall Street Bets,” which premiered at SXSW, “Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11,” which was presented at TIFF and “The Way I See It,” in partnership with Focus Features, which was the highest rated non-news program in MSNBC’s 25-year history and the winner of the 2020 NY Film Critics Award for best documentary. Studios also made its first foray into scripted series with “The Thing About Pam,” on NBC, in partnership with Blumhouse Television.
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NBCUniversal News Group