Black Public Media awards $225,000 for three film and technology projects

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Black Public Media has awarded $225,000 to three teams that are leading film and technology projects.

The grants were announced Thursday night at the PitchBLACK Awards, an event hosted by BPM. The winners were competitors during the two-day PitchBLACK Forum, which draws potential funders for filmmakers.

“Black Public Media is proud to award these talented independent filmmakers and creative technologists with well-deserved funding so they can bring their timely projects to life,” said Denise A. Greene, BPM’s director of programs, in a news release. “As in prior years, these winners have succeeded in connecting, informing and illuminating through engaging content designed to really move the needle.”

The documentary Wednesdays in Mississippi, a film focusing on women activists in the civil-rights era, was awarded $150,000. It is directed and co-produced by Marlene McCurtis, a Los Angeles–based filmmaker who has worked with A&E, most notably as a producer for the series Beyond Scared Straight, and has also worked with KCET in Los Angeles. Additional personnel include EP Dean Schramm and producers Joy Silverman and Cathee Weiss, according to the documentary’s website.

The multiplatform program 40 Acres, which will explore Black farmers in the U.S., received $50,000. The project, which will be a television series and will use augmented reality, is led by Tamara Shogaolu. A director based in Los Angeles and Amsterdam, Shogaolu is also a technologist and founder of Ado Ato Pictures. She received a BPM+ Fellowship from Black Public Media last year to research and develop 40 Acres.

Leonardo Souza received $25,000 for Rabiola Open Skies, a project that invites participants to fly virtual kites using their cellphones around specific walls and buildings. “We’d love to see this joyful piece pop up in public spaces around the globe,” said the jury that selected Souza, according to the news release. The project is a spinoff of Souza’s virtual reality experience, Rabiola Tales, which is still in development. Souza, based in Rio de Janeiro, is founder of Okoto Studio and was the recipient of a BPM+ Fellowship in 2020 to research and develop Rabiola Tales.

The PitchBLACK Awards ceremony also honored Orlando Bagwell, a documentary filmmaker who previously worked for GBH in Boston. He has also worked on films for Frontline and American Experience and helped produce the series Eyes on the Prize.

BPM also awarded Spelman College senior Blanca Burch the Nonso Christian Ugbode Fellowship, given to technology workers under age 30. Burch, a Milwaukee native majoring in international studies, will use her fellowship to develop augmented reality components for her interactive children’s coloring book The ABCs of Who I Can Be. The project is meant to show children “the multitude of career opportunities available to them,” according to the release.

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