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.