Black Public Media awards $610000 to filmmakers, honors Sam Pollard with Trailblazer Award – Current

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Black Public Media awarded $610,000 in production funds at its seventh PitchBLACK Forum, an annual ceremony geared towards projects led by Black filmmakers and technologists.

The amount is the largest awarded in PitchBLACK’s history. At the 2022 and 2023 ceremonies, BPM issued $225,000 each for various projects. Sponsored by Netflix and PBS, the event was held Wednesday and Thursday at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center.

Dávila and Estrada

The documentary Zenón, focused on the life of a Puerto Rican fisherman and activist who led protests against the U.S. Navy’s occupation of the island, won $150,000. Director Juan C. Dávila and producer Camila Rodríguez Estrada accepted the grant. Judges for the PitchBLACK Film Forum were World Editor-in-Chief and EP Chris Hastings, filmmaker Sabrina Schmidt-Gordon and Chloe Gbai, manager of original documentaries at Netflix.

“Image Frequency Modulation,” an interactive project that discusses ancestry and the African diaspora, won a $50,000 immersive project award. Its creator is Ethel-Ruth Tawe and producer is Elisha Tawe, a sister-and-brother team from Cameroon. Philadelphia artist Andrea Walls received a $25,000 immersive project award for “The Museum of Black Joy: Ring Shouts, Rituals & Rising Signs,” a four-wall video installation.

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“Every year, PitchBLACK serves as a reminder to our team, and to the wider industry, of the amazing pool of talent in our media making communities,” said Leslie Fields-Cruz, executive director of BPM, in a news release. “What this year’s PitchBLACK participants share is a commitment to novel storytelling. Their work is innovative, enlightening and entertaining, a hopeful harbinger of the future of public media.”

The Jacquie Jones Memorial Fund award was presented to American Sons, a documentary by Andrew J. Gonzales and Laura Varela. The $380,000 award will assist the duo in completing their film, which follows a group of Marines after deployment in Afghanistan as they reunite over the death of a fellow veteran. The CPB-backed film is slated to premiere on PBS in 2025. The award is named after BPM’s second executive director, Jacquie Jones, who died in 2018.

During the event, Emmy Award–winning filmmaker Sam Pollard was given the BPM Trailblazer Award. He spoke about his career with Brittany Luse, the host of NPR’s It’s Been a Minute.

Fields-Cruz and Pollard (Credit: Ed Marshall Photography)

Pollard was co-director of two episodes of the public television series Eyes on the Prize. He also directed Mr. Soul!, MLK/FBI and Black Art: In the Absence of Light. He has credits as an editor for films including Ganja & Hess and several Spike Lee movies, including Mo’ Better Blues and Bamboozled.

As part of PitchBLACK, a four-city retrospective of Pollard’s films and virtual screenings is running through May 5. In-person screenings previously took place in New York, and more were scheduled for Los Angeles, Baltimore and Santa Barbara, Calif.

Ethel-Ruth Tawe also received the Nonso Christian Ugbode (NCU) Fellowship, an award founded in 2016 and named after BPM’s late director of digital initiatives to support technologists under 30. Tawe will receive a $5,000 award.

BPM, a Harlem-based nonprofit, has awarded more than $1.8 million to 23 projects since launching PitchBLACK in 2015. In addition to Netflix and PBS, the event is supported by CPB, the MacArthur Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and other organizations.

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