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Film Independent and Netflix Put Black Directors in the Spotlight

Film Independent and Netflix Put Black Directors in the Spotlight

Last year, Netflix Film Club launched as a YouTube channel offering behind-the-scenes videos, celebrity interviews and more, for cinephiles new and old. As the channel’s community grew, so did its ambition to highlight underrepresented voices.

So we’re excited about a new partnership between Film Independent and the Netflix Film Club. Together we were able to develop a program to fund short films from five promising independent Black filmmakers that are premiering on Netflix Film Club.

This grew out of the partnership Netflix and  Film Independent have had for years. Through it, Film Independent introduced Netflix to Project Involve, which supports filmmakers from diverse backgrounds through mentorships, workshops, short film creation, and networking events. In July of 2020, 45 nominated fellows from Film Independent’s Artist Development Labs and Project Involve program were invited to submit pitches for the Netflix Film Club under the banner of “Vision 2020.” Our goal was to inspire and empower filmmakers to tell their stories amidst a pandemic and social unrest. Five were selected to make their shorts, each receiving a $10,000 grant. 

After months of writing, directing and editing, the films begin rolling out today, starting with “Black Prom” by Nijla Mu’min - with a new short premiering every day this week. All five will be available to watch on both Netflix Film Club and Strong Black Lead to help mark Black History Month. Among them: a biopic about Black aviatrix Bessie Coleman, a documentary on a mother’s journey with her son getting Covid in prison, a horror story about a family’s move to the suburbs, a drama following a Black teenager’s unconventional prom night, and a documentary hybrid examining the complicated relationship between artist and muse.

We invite you to check them all out and discuss these with your fellow film fans.

Find out more on the five filmmakers below and click here for stills from the five shorts.

Sheldon Candis (“Queen Bess”)

Baltimore native Sheldon Candis is a graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Candis’ feature directorial debut LUV was an official selection in the 2012 Sundance Film Festival Dramatic Competition. Candis directed the feature length documentary Baltimore Boys for the ESPN Films banner, and “Who Will Survive America” for the Sundance Now Doc Club original series Take 5: Justice in America. Recently, Candis wrapped production on When the Lights are the Brightest, the next chapter of the video game series NBA 2K

Jarrett Lee Conaway (“My Brother Jesus”)

Jarrett Lee Conaway holds an MFA in Film Production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. His feature directing debut, the teen comedy Mono, was released on Netflix in 2016. Conaway directed the horror comedy web series Bite Me, which earned three Streamy Award nominations and was viewed over 35 million times. 

Ellie Foumbi (“Home”)

Originally from Cameroon, Ellie Foumbi holds an MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts in Directing. Foumbi made her TV directorial debut on BET’s Tales. She was a finalist of the 2019/2020 Venice Biennale Cinema College with her first feature, Our Father, the Devil, which will be presented at the 78th Venice International Film Festival and will participate in IFP’s 2020 project Forum.

Nijla Mu’min (“Black Prom”)

Nijla Mu'min is an Easy Bay Area native and a 2013 graduate of CalArts MFA Film Directing and Creative Writing programs. Her debut feature film, Jinn, won the Special Jury Recognition Award for Screenwriting at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival. She has directed episodes of Queen Sugar and Insecure, and recently wrote for the upcoming series Swagger. She is currently developing her second feature film, Mosswood Park

Frederick Thornton (“Injustice System”)

Frederick Thornton is a Spirit Award nominated and Gotham Award-winning Black filmmaker.  Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Thornton is a graduate of Chapman University, where he completed a BA in Psychology. His latest produced feature, Go Back To China, premiered at SXSW in 2019. He is currently in pre-production on his narrative directorial debut short film, October Mourning.