In our Meet the Member series, we showcase the creative professionals in The Shop’s vibrant community who are making an impact in their industry. From non-profit organizations, to software developers, design firms, and more– our members represent a diverse range of backgrounds and businesses.
Your next personal or professional connection might be working in the Commons area right next to you. We’ll help you discover them.
Firelight Media Documentary Lab Manager Chloe Walters-Wallace wears many hats as part of the nonprofit organization. Firelight acts as a support system, learning space, and advocate for diverse filmmakers across the country. As part of Firelight, Chloe works to have diverse, independent filmmakers’ stories seen and heard by providing professional guidance, industry connections and opportunities, and more.
In between her day-to-day of managing the Firelight Documentary Lab, we caught up with Chloe to talk about her journey through different fields of the film industry, favorite places to walk around in New Orleans, and why being an independent filmmaker is like working in the tech or start-up world.
How did you first become aware of and involved with Firelight Media?
To take it way back, I’ve known about Firelight Media since I first began watching documentaries in grad school. Our founder, award-winning documentarian Stanley Nelson, made a film called Jonestown: Life & Death of People’s Temple, which I was enthralled with from start to finish. I think of it as the original Wild, Wild Country!
In particular, I’ve known of the Firelight Documentary Lab since I first started in the non-profit media industry at the Tribeca Film Institute in New York. The documentary space largely focuses on narratives of the underrepresented, but those same people rarely had the opportunity to make decisions as gatekeepers or directors. Firelight has been a incredible support system, learning space, and advocate for diverse filmmakers across the country for decades. They’ve been supporting and cultivating filmmakers at the beginning of their careers, who are now at the top of the game (like Dawn Porter, Bobby Kennedy for President; Sonia Kennebeck, National Bird; Lacey Schwartz, Little White Lie). Our filmmakers have won Emmys, Peabodys, Oscar nominations… all of it.
As a Jamaican, coming from a country who often has distorted narratives out in the world about who and what you are, I’ve always been a proponent of supporting those who wish to tell their own story. The stories we tell, whether negative or positive, can define a nation, a people, or a life. This can have of all sorts of political or economic ramifications. To me, Firelight is the foremost disruptor and field-builder in this industry right now. My journey started at TFI, then I previously headed up the Emerging Voices and Southern Producers Lab programs at the New Orleans Film Society, so I’ve been committed to advocating for underrepresented voices getting out into the world for most of my working life. So to work with Firelight on a national scale at this point in my career is a dream come true.
What does your day-to-day look like at your organization? Has The Shop’s coworking environment impacted your work?
LOL, I WORK AT A NON-PROFIT! So I wear many hats! But seriously, my day-to-day is managing the Firelight Documentary Lab, an 18-month fellowship for diverse filmmakers across the country working on their first and second feature film.
We have a small team; there are only three of us, and I’m the only member based in New Orleans. Together we organize professional development retreats for the filmmakers, give notes on their funding applications, watch cuts of their films (I’m sure this is what most people see me doing while I’m at the Shop, I promise, I’m not just watching TV all day!), provide funding through our Next Step Fund, recommend them to other national programs (like Sundance), or just listen when life is coming at them hard. Being an independent filmmaker is like working in the tech or start-up world, except that you’re working on a new “business” every 2-3 years, if you’re lucky.
The Shop is not only just a beautiful place to work, and has all the facilities I need to get everything done, but I LOVE [Community Specialists] Julia and Natalia. They are so great and always encourage me to climb out of my film-watching hole and join in. Even though Jamaica was NOT in the World Cup this year (never forget Reggae Boyz 1998!!!), it was wonderful knowing I could head downstairs and join in with people who were just as excited to watch it as I was.
What’s your favorite thing to do in New Orleans outside of work?
Dang, there’s so much to love. [I really love] certain events when they roll around: The New Orleans Film Festival, Shotgun Cinema’s Stop Making Sense dance/film event every December, Jazzfest, Always for Pleasure, Super Sunday, Second Lines. I LOVE hosting people at home and have a wild Christmas party every year. But mostly, and this is, well, corny, but I really like heading out to the lakefront or walking in the Lower Garden District. I spend so much time on my computer or in front of a screen it’s nice to clear my head.
What are some exciting projects you or Firelight Media have coming down the pipeline?
We have seven current fellows right now at different stages and each of their projects tell of an incredible, fascinating aspect of American life. I’m very excited for each their work to head out into the world, probably next year. A few of our alums screened their films at this year’s New Orleans Film Festival!
Finally, we have done some awesome partnerships on digital shorts for the last few years. The first was with Field Of Vision on a project called Our 100 Days, followed by a collaboration with New York Times Op Docs, the latest by Jason Dasilva, a Doc Lab alum, called The Disability Trap.