Sundance Exclusive: Firelight Media, Blackhouse & Color of Change Collaborate on Events Highlighting HBCU Initiative

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April 20th 2017

Firelight Media Firelight Media

Veteran Emmy winning documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson is set to premiere his next work, an ambitious two-hour documentary and multimedia project that explores the pivotal role Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have played in American history, culture, and national identity.

An official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the upcoming 2017 Sundance Film Festival which kicked off this week, the first ever project of its kind on HBCUs is titled "Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities." It features the voices, photos, letters, diaries, home movies and a variety of never before seen or heard media that reveal this important aspect of collective American History, via the many stories from HBCU students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The documentary demonstrates how the 150-year history of HBCUs has influenced generations of Americans and shaped the landscape of the country.

To coincide with the premiere of the film, the production team has also launched - an online space where HBCU students, alumni, families and faculty are invited to contribute to the documentary and multimedia project by sharing personal photos, videos, and stories capturing their individual HBCU experiences. All contributed content to the website will be curated and shared in the HBCU Rising Digital Yearbook, and during HBCU campus and community events leading up to the film’s TV premiere on PBS in October 2017.

In addition, as the film premieres at Sundance, Nelson's Firelight Media production company will present a series of related events and panels around the documentary and its accompanying multimedia effort, encouraging audiences everywhere to get involved via the platform, and for those at the festival, checking out some of the public events Firelight is hosting while there.

Firelight Media will present a sneak preview of the HBCU exhibit today, Saturday, January 21 at Blackhouse Lab. The event is open to the public and invites audiences to contribute personal photos to the HBCU Digital Yearbook, watch exclusive clips from the film, and listen to StoryCorps audio content from HBCU graduates. Also, director Nelson, as well as director Rob Hardy ("The Quad," BET), actress Anika Noni Rose ("The Quad," BET), and director Gerard McMurray ("Burning Sands," Netflix) will join together on January 21 at 2:30pm at Blackhouse Lodge to discuss the role HBCUs have played in their lives, and why story of HBCUs must be told. The panel will be moderated by Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of Color of Change, and is sponsored by Firelight Media and Color of Change.

“We are proud to come to Sundance Film Festival this year to support an array of projects directed by former Firelight Documentary Lab fellows—Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis ("Whose Streets?"), Pete Nicks ("The Force"), Christine Turner ("Hold On")—and the ninth Sundance Film Festival world premiere from our very own Stanley Nelson,” says Firelight Media President, Marcia Smith. “More than just beautiful filmmaking, these films offer nuance and insight into some of the most timely and important issues of our time.”

“At Firelight our commitment has deepened—not only to the films—but to the movements working to bring about change,” adds Firelight Media Director of Outreach and Engagement, Sonya Childress. “We know the power of storytelling, coupled with innovative strategy, and in partnership with communities and leaders, can fuel social change. We believe in these filmmakers and the potential of their films to feed movements and change the narrative.”

"Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities" premieres at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival on Monday, January 23rd at 11:45am at the Marc Theater. Following the premiere, Firelight Media will host the "We Gon’ Be Alright Party," a celebration of the achievements of Stanley Nelson, Firelight Documentary Lab Fellows, and the Firelight Media community.

All content submitted to the HBCU Rising website will be curated and shared in the HBCU Rising Digital Yearbook, and during HBCU campus and community events leading up to the film’s broadcast premiere.

Co-produced by ITVS, "Tell Them We Are Rising" will premiere on the PBS series Independent Lens in 2017.

For more information about "Tell Them We Are Rising" and the HBCU Rising platform, get involved at

by Shadow and Act on April 20th 2017
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