PitchBLACK Awards recently distributed $410,000 to five film teams competing in a national pitch competition. The competition was the fourth edition of an intensive 360 Incubator+ fellowship initiative of Black Public Media (BPM), a leading national nonprofit that trains and supports Black filmmakers to fund their projects. The competition was presented before public television and commercial distributors and funders.

Two of the winning teams are connected to the Washington, D.C., area. Awarded $75,000 each was “Listen to Me” by Stephanie Etienne who lives in Baltimore and Kanika Harris who lives in the District. Their film follows four Black women to tell why Black women are at high risk for complications from pregnancy and childbirth. Also awarded $75,000 was “What’s in a Name?” from the duo Malkia Lydia from the District and Khalil Munir from Philadelphia. The film follows Munir, a performance artist, as he examines his bittersweet South Philadelphia upbringing and the names and legacies he inherited from generations of Black men.

During the competition, teams were assigned a mentor who was an experienced, award-winning filmmaker. For three months film teams worked with their mentors to refine their pitch videos. PitchBLACK and BPM’s 360 Incubator+ also held workshops for competing creatives providing insights on a range of aspects in filmmaking.

“We covered some of the mechanics like working in virtual space and developing engagement strategies,” said Denise Greene, BPM director of program initiatives. “We also talked about what it means to be a Black filmmaker at this time and the importance of Black stories and Black storytellers.”

Films About Real Life

“Listen to Me” comes from personal experiences of co-producers/directors Etienne and Harris. The first-time filmmakers are mothers who have experienced the loss of babies during pregnancy. The duo was influenced by the news feature about Shalon Irving, a Georgia resident who died after giving birth to her daughter. Irving had complications from hypertension. A spotlight shined on health disparities among Black women during pregnancy and childbirth.

“We realized that Shalon would have been any one of us,” said Harris about a conversation she had with Etienne. “After the national news coverage and from reading journal articles we realized why Black women are at high risk and why it is not our fault.”

Avoiding the street life is how Munir and Lydia have approached their film “What’s in a Name?” Munir, film co-producer, wants to understand how the legacy from his entrepreneur grandparents in Philadelphia went awry with his father going to prison for conviction of drug-related crime. Munir’s father is out of prison and follows Islam.

“With the birth of his son, Munir has compassion about how life-changing experiences causes you to change direction,” said Lydia, co-producer and director. “As a performer, choreographer and actor Munir is creating his story through his art.”

Pandemic Said ‘Cut’

The pandemic halted production on both films during most of 2020. Cast and crews are now beginning to return to work. Both films are scheduled to be released in 2022.

“We have to ensure that our makers have the money and resources to tell those stories, and so, in some ways, it is on all of us to support and engage and bring them up and out into the world,” said Leslie Fields-Cruz, BPM executive director.

Sponsors and supporters of the current PitchBLACK and 360 Incubator and PitchBLACK were the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Netflix, PBS, the MacArthur Foundation, Acton Family Giving, the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and SHIFT online collaboration platform for media creatives.

The next PitchBLACK competition is in 2022. For more information, go to blackpublicmedia.org.

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.