BAVC Media Announces 2021 MediaMaker Fellows

Published On: May 19, 2021 |

BAVC Media is proud to welcome an outstanding roster of 8 new MediaMaker Fellows for the 2021 year – a diverse group of filmmakers who are working in realms beyond the traditional bounds of documentary form to ask urgent questions in captivating new ways.

The BAVC MediaMaker Fellowship is one of the longest-standing, top-tier artist development programs in the U.S. for investing in diverse emerging Documentary Filmmakers, providing nonfiction storytellers with critical mentorship, access to industry contacts, and structure for workshopping projects in an inclusive and collaborative environment. For the 2021 Fellowship, BAVC Media is awarding $10,000 in unrestricted funding to 8 filmmakers in addition to an immersive 8-month experience that includes intimate feedback sessions, all-access travel to the Camden International Film Festival in Maine, workshops with seasoned experts in the field, and a built-in support network.

Established through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 1991— and currently supported by grants  from the NEA, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Kenneth Rainin Foundation — the MediaMaker Fellowship program invests in independent, emerging and mid-career artists working on social-issue documentary projects. The program is known for betting on artists and projects as a “first-in” supporter.

“We are incredibly proud to introduce the 2021 cohort of BAVC MediaMaker Fellows. This diverse generation is pushing the boundaries of documentary in unique and exciting ways. The Fellows represent the tremendous potential of the art-of-nonfiction to help us reimagine the complex problems confronting our communities at this critical moment in time. We received a record number of applicants for the BAVC MediaMaker Fellowship this year. With the help of a national selection team, we narrowed the pool down to 8 cohort members. As they consider complex questions around incarceration, climate justice, colonialism, the global housing crisis, and more, these Fellows are answering the call to reckon with history, spark new dialogue, and enliven our national imagination. We look forward to investing in the development of these nuanced and expansive narratives and supporting these visionary filmmakers as they make waves in their careers and in the field at large.” – Niema Jordan and Rodrigo Reyes, Co-Directors of the BAVC MediaMaker Fellowship

The MediaMaker Fellowship is devoted to supporting documentary filmmakers grappling with critical issues of our time through the use of bold cinematic language and innovative impact strategies, seeking candidates who have the potential to shape our understanding of how documentaries can transform the world, as well as expanding the quality of the art of nonfiction. Our cohort is a collaborative, community-driven space that places diversity, representation, and ethical relationships with storytelling at the very forefront of our practice. We aim to build a safe space for filmmakers to workshop their films, establish critical bonds and relationships, and gain valuable insights as they go on to build their careers in the field.

The announcement of this year’s MediaMaker Fellowship cohort comes on the heels of BAVC Media’s expansion of three additional national programs. BAVC Media recently announced the recipients of the 2021 Preservation Access Program (PAP), a program that provides free and below-market services to nonfiction filmmakers, other artists and arts institutions, and helps train the next generation of diverse media archivists. Additionally, over the last year, BAVC Media launched Serial Storytellers, a program for 25 diverse 18-25 year-olds in narrative and nonfiction television and digital series writing and development.  Lastly, BAVC Media will offer one-on-one mentorship to 25 filmmakers as part of the MediaMaker Connect Mentorship Program. In 2020 BAVC Media piloted this program to help Fellows overcome stumbling blocks to complete their projects, to forge connections between filmmakers at different stages of their careers, and to help emerging filmmakers get the support that they need to compete for grants and labs. All of these programs invest in artists and organizations that have been historically underrepresented in film and media, including those who identify as BIPOC, low income, queer, trans, non-binary, women or femme, and those with disabilities. 

This announcement also follows the robust accomplishments of the previous cohort. The 2020 MediaMaker Fellows, despite the obstacles of the last year, have made huge strides in crafting a slate of impressive and challenging non-fiction films. From the 2020 cohort, two films have already been completed and accepted into major international film festivals. North By Current was selected for the Berlinale Panorama Dokumente and will be eligible for multiple Berlinale awards later this year. Maya Cueva’s On the Divide will be premiering in competition at the 2021 Tribeca Festival this June where North by Current will also have it’s North American premiere. Both films have subsequently been acquired for US television broadcast by POV on PBS. Since the start of the program year nearly all of the artists and projects supported by the 2020 Fellowship have been recognized by other institutions and awards such as IDA Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund, Ford Foundation JustFilms Documentary Grant, Points North Institute North Star Fellowship, SFFILM Documentary Film Fund, Hulu/Kartemquin Accelerator, IFP Project Forum, Catapult Research Grant, DOC NYC’s Annual “40 Under 40” List, Tribeca Film Institute All Access Latin American Grant, CrossCurrents Doc Fund, Latino Public Broadcasting Public Media Content Fund, Field Foundation Awards, Field of Vision-support, and the Mississippi Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship.

Now without further ado, the 2021 MediaMaker Fellows are:

Carolina González Valencia, The Cleaning Writer (Portland, ME); Contessa Gayles, Life + Life (San Francisco, CA); Denise Zmekhol, Skin of Glass (Berkeley, CA); Hadley Austin, Demon Mineral (Chicago, IL); Lendl Tellington, ...that’s why He made my momma (Baltimore, MD); Norbert Shieh, Preserves (Los Angeles, CA); Tony Nguyen, TO BE (Oakland, CA); Zack Khalil, Aanikoobijigan [ancestor / great-grandparent / great-grandchild] (Brooklyn, NY).

Meet the 2021 Fellows:

Carolina González Valencia

Carolina’s practice lies at the intersection of personal, social, and political narratives. She weaves multiple media to create documents that challenge social and historical representations of migration, otherness, diaspora, and labor.  She has worked on film and art projects in Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Lebanon, and the United States. She is the recipient of LEF Foundation Production Grant, the Lyn Blumenthal Scholarship, the Gelman Travel Fellowship, and the Programa Nacional de Estímulos (Colombian Ministry of Culture).  She received an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Department of Film, Video, New Media, and Animation).  Carolina is now an assistant professor in the Department of Art and Visual Culture at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.

The Cleaning Writer (Working Title) – Beatriz, a former domestic worker in the U.S. and Carolina, her daughter-filmmaker, collaborate to create the fictional character, Beatriz Valencia – author of the forthcoming book “How to Immigrate to the United States.” The Cleaning Writer is a hybrid documentary that tells a story about immigration, labor, dreams, and the power of fiction to generate emancipation.

Contessa Gayles

Contessa is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist, and an Emmy-nominated producer. She tells stories about identity, socio-political movement and change, healing, liberation and radical imagination, with a focus on race and gender.

She spent several years as a producer at CNN, where she created, produced, directed, shot and edited award-winning original series and documentaries, including the feature documentary, The Feminist on Cellblock Y; shorts, Women Who March and Women Who March: The Movement; and series including, This Is Birth with Lisa Ling, This Is Sex with Lisa Ling, and the 2016 News & Documentary Emmy-nominated Feeding America’s Most Vulnerable Children. She has additionally contributed to VICE, PBS NewsHour, PBS Frontline, CBS, Time, Al Jazeera, Vox, WIRED, AFROPUNK and documentary features, including SHOWTIME’s Surge (dir. Hannah Rosenzweig, Wendy Sachs), forthcoming films, including Black Mothers (dir. Débora Souza Silva) and others.

Contessa holds a B.A. from Columbia University and an M.A. in Journalism from New York University, with a concentration in Documentary Film. As an independent filmmaker, her work has been supported by Field of Vision, Film Independent, SFFILM, Artemis Rising Foundation, Skoll Foundation and others. She was awarded a 2020 SFFILM filmmaker residency.

Life + Life – An incarcerated musician struggles for healing and peace as he comes of age in this documentary-musical opus composed behind bars. Part documentary and part visual album, the film’s narrative explores the underpinnings of cycles of harm and interrogates the model of revenge and punishment as justice, from the streets to the State.

Denise Zmekhol

DENISE ZMEKHOL is a Brazilian-American journalist, an award-winning producer and director of documentary films and media projects that span the globe. Her documentary films, commercials, and innovative transmedia projects have been recognized for their elegant visual style and deft storytelling. Her feature documentary CHILDREN OF THE AMAZON was supported by the Independent Television Service and broadcast on PBS, as well as on European and Latin American television. Denise co-produced and co-directed DIGITAL JOURNEY, an Emmy Award winning PBS series exploring emerging technologies in their social, environmental and cultural contexts. Denise co-directed BRIDGE TO THE FUTURE a short for PBS/TED Talks and was co-producer on Amir Soltani’s DOGTOWN REDEMPTION that was exhibited on the PBS series Independent Lens. Recently, Denise presented the story of her recent film SKIN OF GLASS at the Pop-Up Magazine Spring 2019 tour in seven cities and with women from around the world at the TEDWomen BOLD + BRILLIANT conference in Palm Springs.

Skin of Glass – SKIN OF GLASS is the story of São Paulo’s tallest highrise favela (slum), a 24-story glass office tower and the architectural masterpiece of Director Denise Zmekhol’s late father. The film follows Denise’s journey to reconnect with the father she lost at fourteen as she uncovers and struggles to protect his artistic legacy while confronting the rapidly growing inequality destroying the city he loved.

The film evolves as a poetic essay on displacement, a cautionary tale about the cities of our future, and a trenchant portrait of activism. Along with Denise and her father, the building, a modernist icon affectionately known as “Pele de Vidro” (Skin of Glass) is a central character. Architects, housing activists, and São Paulo’s homeless residents who know the building intimately all contribute elements of the larger story as we see their own stories intersecting with it. The film’s structure mirrors the important life phases of the building, which reveal the reality of urban life in Brazil during key eras of darkness, transformation, and rebirth.


Hadley Austin

Hadley Austin’s work is rooted in historical research, social justice, and the natural world.  Demon Mineral is her feature debut, for which she is a Redford Center Fellow and Bay Area Video Coalition grantee. A published poet, she is also a Pushcart Nominee.

Demon Mineral – DEMON MINERAL documents life in the radioactive desert on the Navajo Reservation. Spanning a landscape perforated by uranium mines in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, the film follows a group of indigenous scientists, elders, and activists as they work to protect a vital living space on contaminated land.

Lendl Tellington

Lendl is a versatile storyteller working across film, photography, journalism, and experiential art.

His practice centers the subversion of aesthetic traditions to more accurately depict the nuance within our experiences. He hones in on the seemingly humdrum existence behind popular history and present moment as means to contextualize the contributions of marginalized communities.

…that’s why He made my momma – In America, owning a home is the universal symbol of legacy. But what happens when you lose that home?

When their matriarch becomes ill, a filmmaker and his sister turn the camera on four generations of their family. As the siblings sift through memories and history, they must reimagine their  family’s legacy after America’s latest recession.

Norbert Shieh

NORBERT SHIEH is a Taiwanese-American filmmaker and cinematographer based in Los Angeles. Through delicate and formal observations, his work explores new perspectives on the quotidian. These projects span from experimental films focused on perception, to intimate documentaries/narratives.

His experimental short film WASHES premiered at the New York Film Festival and won the Jury’s Citation Award at the Black Maria Film & Video Festival. TWO MILES EAST, Norbert’s latest short documentary is part of an omnibus celebrating the 20th anniversary of the San Diego Asian Film Festival, and premiered during its opening night. Norbert’s commissioned documentaries include work for KCET, The Autry Museum, European Capital of Culture, and Pacific Arts Movement. His collaborations as a cinematographer have screened in international festivals and venues including: Sundance, Slamdance, AFI Fest, Ann Arbor, Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, CAAMFest, LA Asian Pacific Film Festival, REDCAT, among others.

Norbert has been a Logan Nonfiction Program fellow and a Visual Communications’s Armed With a Camera fellow. He is a recipient of a Creative Capital Film/Video Grant and was recently included as part of True/False Film Fest’s inaugural year of PRISM, a program spotlighting BIPOC filmmakers working in nonfiction. In 2019, Filmmaker Magazine named Norbert as one of “25 New Faces of Independent Film.”

Preserves – PRESERVES is an observational documentary following a Taiwanese culinary ingredient, suan cai (a pickled mustard green), from “farm-to-table” over the course of a six month season. With a meditative lens, the film explores the quotidian of people in agriculture and food production. Together, these characters and the investigation of labor, illuminate the deep connections between time, food, and place.

Tony Nguyen

Tony Nguyen made his directorial debut with ENFORCING THE SILENCE (2011), which the LA Times called “an uplifting portrait” of Lam Duong, the first of five Vietnamese journalists to be assassinated in America.  In 2015 his personal film, GIAP’S LAST DAY AT THE IRONING BOARD FACTORY, broadcast nationally on PBS and received the CAAMFest Award for Social Issue Documentary.  In 2016 he served as an associate producer on the Emmy-nominated Frontline documentary TERROR IN LITTLE SAIGON.  In 2017 his short, FRESH FROZEN, about the best fish sandwich in Oakland premiered at the inaugural DOCLANDS Documentary Film Festival in Mill Valley.  In 2019 he premiered G. BRONSON, a short about an aspiring musician, at OAKLAND SHORTIES 2 at the New Parkway Theater.  In 2020 he released I SEE ME about Oakland teen muralist Kathy Liang, which was featured on KQED.

TO BE  – In 1975, a young woman, unaware she’s pregnant, escapes Vietnam during the Fall of Saigon, lands in a small town in Indiana, and, seven months later, gives birth.  As her son grows from child to adult, she adamantly refuses to tell him anything about his father, who and where he is, if he’s even alive.  TO BE (working title) follows filmmaker Tony Nguyen on his quest to solve the mystery of his father and heal a part of himself.  An “investigative home movie,” this hour-long documentary is an exploration of family, history, masculinity, of how an individual is shaped by race, war and loss.

Zack Khalil

Zack Khalil is a filmmaker and artist from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, currently based in Brooklyn, NY.  His work centers indigenous narratives in the present—and looks towards the future—through the use of innovative nonfiction forms. His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Lincoln Center, Walker Arts Center, New York Film Festival, and the Sundance Film Festival among other institutions.  Khalil is the recipient of various fellowships and grants, including the Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship, Sundance Art of Nonfiction Grant, and Gates Millennium Scholarship. Khalil received his BA from Bard College.

Aanikoobijigan [ancestor / great-grandparent / great-grandchild]  – In the sterile storage of museums and archives our ancestor’s remains struggle to find their way home. The film follows indigenous repatriation specialists fighting to rebury and return ancestors from settler-colonial libraries, archives, and museums. Through an essayistic approach the film lays bare the history of indigenous collections, the laws passed to ensure return of human remains and funerary objects, and vérité portraits of the righteous and courageous individuals doing the hard and emotionally draining work of bringing our ancestors back home.