Leslie Fields-Cruz
APRIL 25, 2023




By Leslie Fields-Cruz

PitchPERFCT is the PitchBLACK Goal

This year’s PitchBLACK Forum & Awards program marks the sixth time Black Public Media has hosted this now annual celebration of Black media story tellers. What started out as a biennial event just for the nonfiction storytellers who participated in our 360 Incubator+ program has grown into an annual three-day exhibition attended by media professionals throughout the industry. It now includes a film forum, an immersive forum, a trailblazer award presentation and film retrospective, a fellowship presentation for immersive media makers under age 30, and an awards ceremony that bestows up to $225K in production funding to the winning competitors. Look at us!

As you can imagine, pulling this off is no easy feat. Our staff, funding partners, and makers are all contributing ample amounts of enthusiastically offered sweat equity to make it possible. And from what I see, this year's celebration is shaping up to be one of our best yet.

This edition of our Weekly Dispatch will post only a few hours before the first team  pitches its project to the Film Forum jury. We extend best wishes all the competitors and hope even those who leave without a check will feel the experience was worthwhile.

Immersive Fellows-2023

2023 Immersive Forum participants pose for a photo after a pitch practice session at the Greene Space in Soho on April 24. Photo by C. Fields

Meanwhile, I’d like to thank all whose work makes PitchBLACK possible. First among these are the Black Public Media board members: Samantha Abrams, Antonia Carew-Watts, J.D., Deniese Davis, Guy-Max Delphine, Darryl Ford Williams (Chair), Eva Marie Malone, Allison Simmons, Janis Smith-Gomez, and Valerie Williams-Sanchez, Ph.D. These wise professionals keep me grounded, but they’re also the first to encourage BPM to stretch its wings and fly. Thank you all for your guidance and support.

Then of course, we have to thank our funding partners whose generous contributions make this program possible: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Netflix, Gimlet, PBS, and Paramount+. Thanks also to those who helped us meet our sponsorship goals for this year’s awards program: American Documentary/POV, Catalyst, Frontline/GBH/WORLD, ITVS, Jacob Burns Film Center, NMCA, NYWIFT, and The WNET Group/American Masters.

And what’s a pitch competition without jurors? Someone has to select the winners. Our film panelists include Byron Hurt, Jamilla Farwell, and Adaora Udoji; and our immersive panelists are Jamal Gray, Jon Sesrie-Goff, and Dr. Courtney Cogburn.

 A big shout out goes to our creative consultant, Sandy Rattley, and the mentors who’ve invested countless hours helping our competitors refine their projects and their pitches over the past three months. For our 360 Incubator+ filmmakers, the mentors include: Angela Tucker, Chris Hastings, Madeleine Hunt-Ehrilch, Rachel Falcone, Michael Premo, and Sabrina Schmidt Gordon. Our immersive mentors are Akilah Scharff-Teoh, Bayete Ross Smith and Leonardo Souza.

My colleagues and I were determined to return to an in-person PitchBLACK event this year, but after two years of offering the program virtually the idea of shutting people out just because they couldn’t get to New York City or because of scheduling conflicts seemed wrong. Fortunately, the same team that helped us produce PitchBLACK through the pandemic era was available to produce our virtual program again this year. So, thanks to the amazing team at Black Heart: Nick Leavens, Carlos Johns-Davila, and Austin Ross. We’re also grateful to graphic designer Giselle N. Wynn for designing our beautiful 2023 program book; to Reggie Allen, who prepared our tribute to our founding president, Mable Haddock; and to Garland McLauren, who prepared our highlights reel and Trailblazer tribute to Yoruba Richen.

Lastly, I must thank the BPM staff and consultants whose daily commitment to this work allows this organization to punch WAY above its weight. I am fortunate to be able to work with such a phenomenal team: Carol Bash, Alimah Boyd, Diane Carr-Joseph, Chloe Cuff, Cheryl Duncan, Aja Evans, Cheryl D. Fields, Denise Greene, Eboni Johnson, DeLynda Lyndsey, Alisa Norris, Lisa Osborne, Kat Walsh, and Qiona Woffard. 

These people have worked long and hard to ensure that this week’s events are pitch perfect. If you appreciate the fruit of their labors, please take time to let the competing teams know what you think about their projects. If you are in a position to help them advance their projects, in any way, we hope you will. My colleagues and I work so hard to bring you PitchBLACK because we know the inestimable value of peer support, recognition and affirmation. Especially in a world where Black stories continue to be dismissed, disparaged, distorted, unfunded, underfunded, and flat out ignored.  We believe you share this awareness and are honored to have you join us. See you soon!

Black Public Media (BPM) is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with further funding from the MacArthur Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts.  BPM is the only nonprofit that offers training, funding and distribution for projects solely about the black experience. We are seeking foundations, corporations and individuals to help our work. For more information about underwriting and contributions, please contact Alisa Norris (alisa@blackpublicmedia.org). 

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