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PBS to commit $3.6m to support mid-career non-fiction filmmakers

PBS has struck a partnership with non-profit filmmaking organisation Firelight Media that will see the US pubcaster commit US$3.6m to support mid-career non-fiction filmmakers.

Paula Kerger

The funding will be distributed over the course of three years through Firelight Media’s William Greaves Fund, president and CEO Paula Kerger said at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour yesterday.

Focusing on storytellers from diverse communities in the US, the fund is designed to address the persistent structural challenges many filmmakers face after producing their first films, so that they can remain in the field.

Within the Greaves Fund, Firelight Media and PBS will hold a joint open call for filmmakers to submit projects focused on underrepresented people and topics for potential funding by PBS.

The fund is named in honour of William Greaves, the longtime mentor of Firelight Media’s co-founder, Stanley Nelson.

Greaves’ legacy in the documentary field includes producing the seminal television newsmagazine Black Journal along with 200-plus documentaries throughout his 60-year career.

Marcia Smith, president and co-founder of Firelight Media, said: “This funding from PBS will help us expand our programmes serving underrepresented documentary filmmakers and support their integration.”

Sylvia Bugg, PBS chief programming executive and general manager, general audience programming, added: “Sharing stories that reflect the full range of the American experience is core to PBS’s work, and these initiatives are another example of PBS’s commitment to amplifying diverse stories and perspectives.”

Kerger also revealed new ways PBS is looking to support long-term initiatives to diversify public media through a grant from the Anne Ray Foundation.

Beginning this year, PBS will implement key elements of this comprehensive initiative, such as an early-career filmmaker mentorship, an executive fellowship programme and a new accountability and reporting structure.

Bugg added: “Sharing a broad array of voices and perspectives across our platforms is fundamental to fulfilling our mission and creating distinctive content that educates, engages and inspires.”

In other news, PBS and US prodco Unity Productions afe working on The Great Muslim American Road Trip. The new three-part documentary series follows a young Muslim American couple—rapper Mona Haydar and her husband Sebastian Robins—as they explore Route 66 and surrounding Muslim communities on a 2,500-mile drive from Chicago to Los Angeles.

PBS has also greenlit American Anthems, a new six-episode series from PBS, NBCUniversal Syndication Studios and Believe Entertainment Group. The show celebrates everyday heroes with surprise songs from Grammy Award winner Jennifer Nettles and today’s biggest country music stars.

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