The Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellowship Program was launched in the Fall of 2019.
Documentary Fellows receive a $5,000 development grant for their documentary film projects, fiscal sponsorship and individually tailored mentorship focused on both professional and project development from Founder & CEO Yvonne Welbon and award-winning filmmaker Anayansi Prado.
Originally a year long fellowship, Sisters in Cinema has modified the program so that the fellows continue in the program throughout their careers. That means Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellows will always be Fellows from acceptance into the program until they decide to opt out.
Inspired by the Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellowship initiative to increase diversity in the faculty ranks of institutions of higher learning through support to prospective PhD students when they are college students and continued support throughout their academic and professional careers, the Sisters in Cinema Fellowship is a similar intervention to increase diversity in the documentary film industry.
The fellows selected in 2021 use their art to document issues such as environmental racism in predominantly black communities (Resita Cox, Freedom Hill), a group of elder women as they preserve the legacy of one of the oldest Black cemeteries in Mississippi (Crystal Kayiza, The Gardeners), and the journey of two mothers working to disrupt our country’s cycle of police violence (Débora Souza Silva, Black Mothers). While the films may differ in topics, all three fellows explore similar themes regarding the intersection of race, location, and social justice.
The 2021 cohort joins the three emerging women filmmakers from the 2019/2020 Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellowship program, whose fellowship films center around the intersection of race, gender, and social justice. Projects developed during the fellowships inaugural year include: Ashley O’shay’s award-winning feature Unapologetic (Athena Film Festival 2021 Breakthrough Award), Luchina Fisher’s award-winning feature Mama Gloria (Best Documentary at Teaneck International Film Festival 2020), and Cai Thomas’ award-winning short Queenie (2020 NewFest NY Short Grand Jury award). All three films are currently on the festival circuit.
2021 SISTERS IN CINEMA DOCUMENTARY FELLOWSHIP RECIPIENTS
Resita Cox (Chicago, IL)
Resita is a freelance journalist and filmmaker based in Chicago, IL. She graduated from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Political Science. Resita launched her career in journalism at WTVD-TV in Raleigh, NC and WCTI-TV in New Bern, NC as a multimedia journalist and news reporter. Resita transitioned from news media to documentary film in 2018, where she was named a Chicago Filmmakers Digital Media Production Grantee for her film, Regrowth, which is about food and environmental justice on the West Side of Chicago. Resita has also worked with Kartemquin Films, one of the leading documentary film houses in the Midwest, as the Impact Producer on their Emmy-nominated docu-series produced with The Marshall Project, We Are Witnesses. She is currently directing a film about the environmental racism that is erasing the first town established by Black people in the nation, Freedom Hill. She is set to earn her MFA in Documentary Media from Northwestern University in June 2021.
Luchina Fisher (New Fairfield, CT)
Luchina Fisher is an award-winning writer, director and producer. Her feature directorial debut, Mama Gloria, about a trailblazing Black transgender elder activist, premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival, won Best of Fest at CineOdyssey and the Jury Award for Best Documentary at Teaneck International, and will be broadcast on PBS in April 2021. Prior to that, she co-executive produced and co-wrote the critically acclaimed feature documentary Birthright: A War Story, which appeared in more than 70 theaters nationwide, qualified for Oscar consideration and is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. She is the director of two short films and has written and produced several nationally broadcast documentaries as well as numerous segments for television. Her next documentary is the Untitled Gary & Gia Project. Luchina began her career as a journalist and has written for People, the Miami Herald, The New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine and ABCNews.com. She has also co-authored or ghostwritten several books. Luchina is a Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellow and a member of Brown Girl Doc Mafia and the Black Documentary Collective.
Crystal Kayiza (Brooklyn, NY)
Crystal Kayiza was raised in Oklahoma and is now a Brooklyn-based filmmaker. As a director, her work reimagines the aesthetics used to tell stories about Black folks across generations and landscapes. Named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film,” she is a recipient of the Sundance Ignite Fellowship, Jacob Burns Film Center Woman Filmmaker Fellowship and Points North Institute North Star Fellowship. Her film, Edgecombe, which received the 2018 Gold Plaque at the Chicago International Film Festival, was an official selection of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival where it was acquired for distribution by PBS. Her most recent film, See You Next Time, which aired on Starz, was an official selection of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was released by the New Yorker. Her short narrative film, Rest Stop, was the winner of the 2020 Tribeca CHANEL Through Her Lens program grant. Crystal received a Heartland Emmy Award in 2012 for her film All That Remains, which profiles Boley, Oklahoma, one of the nation’s last all-black towns. She is currently in pre-production on The Gardeners, her first nonfiction feature film, which recently received the 2021 Creative Capital Award.
Ashely O’Shay (Chicago, IL)
Ashley O’Shay is a DP and documentarian based in Chicago, IL, whose work focuses on illuminating marginalized voices. She has produced work for national brands, including Lifetime, Nike, KQED, and Dr. Martens. She filmed the final episode of Dr. Martens’ “Tough As You” series, starring the band Phony Ppl, accruing over 65K views on social and web. In 2019, she co-produced the Chicago episode of KQED’s award-winning series “If Cities Could Dance,” which became one of their most viewed episodes to date. Her work also appeared in the critically-acclaimed Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly. Most recently, she premiered her debut feature, Unapologetic, which offers a deep look into the Movement for Black Lives in Chicago, told through the experiences of two young, Black queer women. The film premiered at the 2020 BlackStar Film Festival, was shortlisted for the International Documentary Association Awards and is the winner of the 2021 Athena Film Festival Breakthrough Award. Her current project is the short film Southmont Drive.
Débora Souza Silva (Oakland, CA)
Débora Souza Silva is a documentary filmmaker whose work examines systemic racism and inequality. Her work has been featured on PBS, BBC, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, and Fusion. Silva started her career as a TV reporter in Brazil before moving to California to pursue a Master in Journalism at UC Berkeley.
She is a recipient of the Les Payne Founder’s Award from the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), the International Women Media Foundation (IWMF) Latin America Reporting Fellowship, the New York Times (NYT) Institute Fellowship and the Creative Capital Award. Silva is a Board Member of Studio IX, a nonprofit that supports womxn filmmakers, and a member of the 2020 Chicken & Egg(celerator) Lab as well as the 2019 Firelight Media Lab. Her work has also been funded by Glassbreaker Films, the Investigative Reporting Program, the Tribeca Film Institute, Fork Films, Perspective Fund, Catapult Film Fund, The Center for Investigative Reporting, Berkeley Film Foundation, California Film Institute, IDA (Pare Lorentz) and California Humanities. Black Mothers is her debut feature film.
Cai Thomas (Chicago, IL)
cai thomas is a documentary filmmaker and dp telling verite stories at the intersection of location, self-determination and identity about Black youth and elders. she grew up in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood and is deeply interested in stories rooted in place. her most recent film Queenie premiered at NewFest in 2020 winning the NY Short Grand Jury award. Her current project is the documentary feature 360 Nation. cai is a member of the NeXt Doc collective and is a Sisters In Cinema fellow. her independent work has been supported by the sundance institute, if/then shorts, kartemquin films among others. during her two season tenure at CBS Sunday Morning she earned an emmy.