The Cucalorus Works-in-Progress (WiP) Lab is an immersive project development program that supports social justice documentaries with a focus on expanding support for Black storytelling. Co-designed and coordinated by Working Films, participating artists receive feedback on their work-in-progress and connect with audiences represented in their project as a strategy for radical accountability. The WiP Lab takes place in Wilmington on the Jengo’s Playhouse campus. Read more about the 2023 cohort below.

2023 Works-in-Progress Lab Recipients

Mother Wit by Te Shima Anusha Brennen

Mother Wit, co-directed by Te Shima Anusha Brennen and Rajvi Desai, follows three Black trans women grieving the death of their matriarch as they fight to achieve their academic ambitions and fulfill promises they made to her.

Te Shima Anusha Brennen is a Black trans storyteller based in Brooklyn, NY. As an emerging documentary filmmaker, they aim to tell nuanced stories about Black queer and trans communities navigating institutions that fail them. Te made their directorial debut with Hold On To Me, which premiered at NewFest Film Festival in October 2022 and traveled to festivals in London, Amsterdam, Seattle, and LA in 2023. Outside of filmmaking, Te advocates improving journalistic practices that produce harmful narratives about trans communities. This culminated in a fellowship at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, where they researched how journalists can reduce these narratives.

7 Acres and a Church by Caroline Josey Karoki

A septuagenarian and community matriarch fights to preserve the oldest continuous Black Baptist Church in North America, her heritage, and the community’s history in Savannah, Georgia.

Caroline is a Kenyan-born filmmaker in Georgia with an MFA in film, drawn to telling stories featuring underserved communities and extraordinary individuals. She recently completed her first documentary feature film, The Price of Hope, which is currently in the festival circuit with selections including the Roxbury International Film Festival and Women Deliver Conference, one of the largest multi-sectoral convenings to advance gender equality. Caroline enjoys teaching film with experiences as a university professor and instructor to high school-age students. She is a board member of Savannah Women in Film and T.V. and a member of DOC Savannah and Brown Girls Doc Mafia.

Unfiltered by Chelsi Bullard

In “Little Haiti” Brooklyn a teenager challenges the ‘Angry Black Woman’ trope through poetry that ignites a quest for intergenerational healing and reclaiming her childhood in this lyrical coming-of-age film.

Chelsi Bullard is a Memphis-born and Brooklyn-based filmmaker and editor with an unwavering desire to restore beauty, well-being and complexity in stories about Black folx. She is a 2023 Big Sky Pitch participant and 2022-2023 Brown Girls Doc Mafia Black Directors Fellow. She edited the feature documentary THE RIGHT TO READ (Santa Barbara, 2023 and SXSW EDU, 2023) with director Jenny Mackenzie and executive producer LeVar Burton. She also recently co-edited LOCKED OUT (Kate Davis and Luchina Fisher) which was named ‘Best Documentary Feature’ at American Black Film Festival, 2023. She produced the feature documentary COMING AROUND directed by Sandra Itäinen (Frameline, 2023).

World Makers by Ashley and William Tyner

Grappling with the impact of George Floyd’s murder, three Black women in Minneapolis embark on interweaving journeys to care for their communities and find inner healing.

Ashley Tyner is a writer, producer and filmmaker. She serves as Culture & Special Projects Editor at i-D Magazine, where she works to create space to amplify marginalized voices in the worlds of art and culture. She formerly led Special Projects for GARAGE Magazine. Ashley studied literature at Middlebury College and Columbia University. She is a Firelight Media Documentary Lab Fellow. 

William Tyner is a filmmaker and currently works as a researcher at Google across questions of justice, equity, and product inclusion. William is currently a Firelight Media Documentary Lab Fellow and the recipient of the 2018-2019 Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, Code for America Fellowship, and San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation Fellow. William studied Anthropology at Wesleyan University.

in love, in memory by Shalon Buskirk

To preserve delicate memories of her son and buried histories of the city he was killed in, a mother collaborates with her community to compose an elegiac portrait of love, loss, and legacy.

Shalon Buskirk is a community leader who has dedicated her life to protecting, helping, and saving young adults from violence within her community. After the tragic death of her firstborn son, Parris, she started to work towards a nonprofit for young adults that engages them with the resources they need for success. She is a storyteller, a mother of eight children, and the CEO/Founder of the Parris J. Lane Memorial Foundation. She was a Film Independent Documentary Lab Fellow in 2022, a Visiting Fellow at MDOCS Storytellers’ Institute in 2020 and 2022, and the co-author of United Hearts for Autism: Stories from Caregivers and Self-Advocates. 

2022 Works-in-Progress Lab Recipients

Salsa, un Tumbao’ Caribeño by Beni Marquez

Afro-Venezuelan director Beni Marquez explores salsa music’s cultural legacy and evolution from the heart of Caribbean barrios to New York in Salsa, A Caribbean Swing.

Beni Marquez is an Afro-Venezuelan filmmaker and music video director from San Agustin, Caracas. His current project Salsa, A Caribbean Swing (Salsa, un tumbao’ caribeño) explores salsa music’s cultural legacy and contemporary realities from the heart of Caribbean barrios to New York City. Beni’s African ancestry, experience as an Afro-Latino immigrant, and upbringing in San Agustin, a working-class barrio in Caracas, guide his filmmaking approach and serve as inspirations for this story. Beni’s previous documentary, Mamá África (2018), focused on the timeless cultural connections between Nigeria and Venezuela.

Raza Rap Project by Camilo Hannibal Smith

The untold story of how Chicanos created their own rap scene in the largest city in the South.

Camilo Hannibal Smith is an Afro-Latino filmmaker and journalist based in Houston, Texas. He began shooting his first documentary film “Raza Rap Project” in the fall of 2018.  It’s the untold story of Southern Latino rap from Houston, through the eyes of the city’s first Latino gangster rapper, Ikeman, and Uncle Tino, a rapper fighting to realize his truest self. Camilo’s work is focused on storytelling that lies at the intersections of history, identity, culture, and justice. He’s created video content and written about hip-hop in Venezuela and Mexico, where he presented a multimedia project at Postopolis! (2010) about Mexico City’s underground rap scene. He directed and produced the short news doc “Petare: a little hope for the most dangerous slum in the world,” about a Christian rapper in Caracas in 2014.

Black Strings by Marquise Mays

An all-African American string orchestra in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, performs in the immediate aftermath of incidents of gun violence, altering the notion of “first responders.”

Marquise Mays is an award-winning filmmaker and film professor based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Experienced in an array of media and arts practices—from cinematic storytelling to exhibition curation—Marquise brings imagination, technical expertise, and cultural awareness to entertainment productions, journalistic undertakings or media-rich events and civic engagements. He holds a M.A in Cinema and Media Studies from the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California (USC) and a B.A in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison).

Tribal Strands by Suzette Burton

Self-made hair stylists create authentic hairstyles, leading the anti-hair discrimination movement. They inspire people to embrace their natural hair worldwide while exploring the intersections between modern and ancient African tribal indigenous hairstyles.

Suzette Burton is an award-winning filmmaker and received a B.F.A. in Film/Video from Pratt Institute. She has directed the short documentary film “Disconnected” about her father’s mysterious death, which premiered at The B.A.M. Theater (Brooklyn Academy of Music) in 2006. Since graduating, she has co-produced the documentary “Daddy Don’t Go,” directed by Emily Abt. The film was also executive produced by Omar Epps and Malik Yoba. It aired on the Starz network in 2015 and screened at over 30 film festivals, winning eight best documentary awards. Suzette has also worked as a co-director, producer, cinematographer, and editor.

I Believe in Our Power
by Siwatu-Salama Ra and Kimberly Mitchell

Detroit mother and organizer Siwatu-Salama Ra fights for freedom following an unjust conviction, and shares her story as a love letter to her children.

Co-director Kimberly P. Mitchell developed a strong commitment to creating socio-economic change through dynamic, storytelling, photography and video at the Detroit Free Press. Dedicated to covering local issues in metro Detroit, she has documented the passing of civil rights activist Rosa Parks, Michigan prison neglect and the abandonment of inmates, Super Bowl XL nightlife, rare diseases like Progeria, and homelessness affecting children. She hopes to honestly reflect the people, events and moments that have defined the community through her photography.



Siwatu-Salama Ra is a mother and organizer who was born and raised in Detroit. She grew up in the environmental justice movement, and served as the co-director of East Michigan Environmental Action Council. In addition to her work locally and across the country, Siwatu represented Detroit and the United States at global social justice events in France, Turkey, and Senegal. She also led youth organizing and media justice work with the Young Educators Alliance and Detroit Future Youth. In March of 2018 Siwatu was incarcerated for defending herself, her mother, and daughter. At the time she was in her third trimester of pregnancy and was forced to give birth to her beautiful son during her imprisonment. After nearly nine months at Michigan Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, Siwatu was released in November 2018 on bond, in order to appeal her unjust conviction and was reunited with her family. In August 2019 she won her appeal and her conviction was reversed. In February 2020 she won her total freedom. She continues to advocate for the liberation and dignity of thousands of women and people inside Michigan’s Women’s prison, as well as organize for environmental justice, climate justice, and a world without prisons or militarism.

2021 Works-in-Progress Lab Recipients

Duality: A Collection of Afro Indigenous Perspectives

A collection of experiences by individuals who identify as Afro Indigenous from various tribes across the United States. The film will explore the history of the two ethnic groups individually and as a collective via the institution of slavery, food ways, dance, dress, spirituality, legal challenges, marginalization, resilience, state/federal recognition and much much more. The trajectory of the story will consist of various climactic points, most notably is the lack of tribal recognition of members who have African descent. 

Fredrick Murphy (co-director):

Frederick Murphy is the founder of History Before Us, LLC, a project centered on capturing, preserving and advocating influential history. His first film, the award-winning The American South as We Know It, explores the lives of survivors of Jim Crow—the courageous individuals who didn’t make the headlines. His second documentary, The Other Side of the Coin: Race, Generations & Reconciliation, was released on September 2, 2020. A collection of experiences and thoughts addressing the complexities of race in America, the film asks, “How do we reconcile for the sake of future generations and humanity?” Mr. Murphy is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor who finds joy in helping people achieve and retain an optimum level of functioning by focusing on their holistic health. He has a master’s degree in Transformative Leadership and serves on the board of the James K. Polk historic site in Pineville, North Carolina and the Slave Dwelling Project located in Charleston, South Carolina.

Kimberly M. Knight (co-director):

Kimberly resides in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a graduate of North Carolina Central University with a Master of Social Work degree, obtained her Licensed Clinical Social Worker-Associate licensure (LCSW-A), and is a 2020 Honoree for the NCCU 40 Under 40 Award. She is the Co-Founder of HIV Cure Research Day proclaimed by Gov. Roy Cooper, Contributing Writer for Sheen Magazine, and Editor of The Lux Blog NC. She identifies as a Black Indian woman whose father is of Eastern Band Cherokee and West African (Ivory Coast) decent and her mother is of African-American, Haliwa-Saponi, and Tuscarora lineage. During her undergraduate years, she was an active member of Sigma Omicron Epsilon Sorority, Inc., a Native American women’s sorority, where she became the first Black Indian Co-President of the Alpha Chapter, and an active member of the East Carolina Native American Organization (ECNAO) at East Carolina University in 2004. Currently, she is an active member of the Western Wake Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., active member of the Triangle Native American Society, National Association of Social Workers-NC Membership Committee, and the Junior League of Raleigh. She is the Committee Chair of the Advisory Council for the first Black Indians NC Powwow for the State of North Carolina which will take place in September 2021.

Humble in the Jungle

Michael Small aka “Mike Gee” of the Jungle Brothers, an American hip hop group composed of Nathaniel Hall (Afrika Baby Bam), and Sammy Burwell (DJ Sammy B) are known as the pioneers of the fusion of jazz, hip-hop, and house music, they were the first hip-hop group to collaborate with a house-music producer. The trio released their debut album, Straight Out the Jungle in July 1988. Their hip-house club hit single, “I’ll House You” was added to the album in late-1988 reissues. It changed the course of hip-hop and dance music by expanding it across the globe with fans. Fostered by Kool DJ Red Alert, uncle to “Mike Gee”, the Jungle Brothers success would pave the way for De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep, Monie Love, and Chi-Ali; collectively known as Native Tongues which they founded. With all the fame and success, Mike Smalls, an unassuming licensed plumber and family man shows humility and astounding work ethic that is beyond belief by working full time as a plumber yet able to transform into the Legendary Hip Hop Artist “Mike Gee” and tour the international globe for 2-3 month at a time to please his fan base.

Ricky Kelly (director):

Ricky is a lifelong lover of documentary film and Hip Hop. He attended St. Augustine University of Raleigh NC where he majored in Communications and is currently working towards a Certificate in Documentary Arts from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. He recently completed and released the documentary film “Black Beach/White Beach- A Tale of Two Beaches” which has received distribution with Gravitas Ventures in November 2018. Ricky has recently been Nominated for Black Power Award 2018, Awarded Best Documentary Film at Charlotte Black Film Festival 2018, selected for Best Documentary Film at NY Hip Hop Film Festival 2018, and selected to screen his Documentary Film at Longleaf Film Festival 2018. Ricky set an attendance record for screenings at Cucalorus Film Festival 2018. It was the first film in the last 26 years with an encore screening and has screened at multiple North Carolina Universities and Colleges. He is currently working on “Humble in the Jungle” and co-producing the documentary short “Chitlings – From slave food to soul food” with his wife, Director Cherie Kelly.

Little Sallie Walker

Play is a lifeline for Black girls across the generations. LITTLE SALLIE WALKER tells the story of Patricia, Billie Jean, Raisha, and Kristi, who instinctively understood that coming-of-age in America involved creating and cultivating worlds of make-believe through different types of play. Pattycake, dress-up, double dutch, doll-making, and hide-and-seek offered sanctuary from discrimination, violence, and poverty. Intimate interviews interlaced with archival footage and rare home movies spanning decades, verité́ scenes, and story reenactments shape this narrative about a spirited and resilient group of Black women and girls.

The character-driven film goes to four regions of the US — New York, Alabama, California, and Washington State — where pleasurable memories are reignited for Patricia, Billie Jean, Raisha, and Kristi. But over time, is “Black girl play” abundant enough to combat the stresses of anti-blackness and gender stereotypes; economic insecurities; and physical trauma? The principal women remain unguarded as they admit why they struggle to use play for their self-care and healing justice in their adult lives. The film is an impassioned and lyrical story about the legacies and interior worlds of Black women and girls and how they attempt to preserve the mind, body, and soul as they navigate America.

Marta Effinger-Crichlow (director/producer/writer):

Marta Effinger-Crichlow is an interdisciplinary artist whose projects in the mediums of film, theater, and literature highlight her mission to fuse social issues, culture, and history. She is a past recipient of a Pittsburgh Multicultural Arts Initiative grant for her multi-media collage “The Kitchen is Closed Startin’ Sunday”. For her produced play “Whispers Want to Holler,” Marta collaborated with noted jazz saxophonist Billy Harper. She has also worked as a freelance dramaturg for theater productions in New York City, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Memphis, and Louisville. She is the author of Staging Migrations toward an American West: From Ida B. Wells to Rhodessa Jones published by the University Press of Colorado. She has appeared on TEDx at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Marta, who received her Ph.D. from Northwestern University, helped curate 400 Years of Inequality: Contributions from the Diaspora at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. She served as an advisor on the feature documentary Chocolate Milk (2019). She is a member of Brown Girls Doc Mafia and the Black Theatre Network. Recognition for her first feature film LITTLE SALLIE WALKER include a Perspective Fund grant (2021); Athena Works-in-Progress Program (2021); Working Films Impact Kickstart awards (2020); Hedgebrook Documentary Lab (Final Round Alternate – Top 10 Overall) (2020); DCTV Works-in-Progress Lab selection (2019); Lower Manhattan Cultural Council/NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Creative Engagement grant (2019); New York State Council on the Arts – Individual Artist grant (2018); New York Women’s Foundation grant (2018); Women Make Movies Production Assistance Program (2018); and IFP JustFilms Fellowship at the Made in NY Media Center (2017). Marta is the mother of a daughter and is also the descendant of Black southern migrants who continue to inform her sensibilities.

My Mother is an Artist

After serving 30 years in prison for murder, Lajuana Lampkins is now a staple in Wicker Park, Chicago, where she sells her drawings to the late-night crowd.

Consumed by grief for her son Prince, who was killed by Illinois police in 2010, Lajuana struggles to sustain a relationship with her surviving son, who also is a working artist in Chicago. Sir Gerald and Lajuana initially bonded over their shared love of art and love of Prince. But over time, Sir Gerald’s growing awareness of his mother’s vices and Lajuana’s desire for him to be more like Prince leads to a rupture in their relationship, making them competing artists in Wicker Park.

As repercussions of Lajuana’s drug use increase, she seeks comfort and support from family but is turned away. Lajuana starts considering treatment.

After George Floyd’s brutal and highly publicized murder, Lajuana is reminded daily of Prince’s murder, and watches as a nation grieves for one man, while she grieves alone.

Abandoning treatment, Lajuana’s wellbeing falters under the constant grind of protecting her children and exposing a corrupt police force. Still, Lajuana risks the time she has left fighting for justice from a system that will never surrender.

Maya Horton (director):

Maya currently works as an Associate Producer at Leo Burnett. Independently, she is Directing the documentary MY MOTHER IS AN ARTIST and developing her own narrative projects. As a freelance video journalist, her documentary work at The Real Chi focused on criminal justice reform in Chicago. This experience helped her develop her skills as a cinematographer and editor and she now works efficiently with a variety of camera and lighting equipment setups. As a fellow of The Real Chi, a non for profit newsroom based on the west side of Chicago, Maya learned the ins and out’s of investigative reporting and video journalism. During her time at the newsroom, she was mentored by seasoned journalists from ProPublica and City Bureau. She is a skilled researcher and very familiar with navigating the inner workings of Chicago’s political and criminal justice system.

In October 2018, she began shooting her documentary film “My Mother is an Artist” a verite style film based on the life of a survivor of the US criminal justice system. While directing MMIAA she has experienced the complexities of becoming a part of your film subject’s life and grapples with ethical questions and dilemmas few other young documentarians have experienced. As a graduate of the Industry Pathways intensive film program and was given the opportunity to be the Director of Photography on the short production that the program produced in 2019. Following her graduation from the Cohort, she interned on several different independent film sets and was offered the chance to intern in the production department at Leo Burnett. She was then hired on as an Associate Producer at the highly regarded agency.

Throughout her career in media Maya’s drive to share the stories of folks in her community has only continued to grow. Her eagerness to learn and her passion for social justice is her strongest quality along with her drive to perfect her craft She is proficient in Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, is a skilled videographer and has worked in educational environments in many instances and hopes to share her skills and learn from her peers.


PARADISE is a personal documentary in five acts. Each act has a distinct visual style and specific guiding question meant to inform the larger themes of race and national origin. These five acts will be bookended by an intro and conclusion with a shared soundtrack and visual style that incorporates historical and familial artifacts.

My mother was born in a country I’ve never been that was colonized and impacted by the only home I’ve ever known. When the United States Special Forces established the Canal Zone in Panama, they brought segregation with them. My mother was born in an all-black town called Paraìso (Paradise).

PARADISE is a deep dive into me answering the questions of those who find my brothers and me racially and regionally ambiguous. I will interview my family, historians, and others to explore these complicated ideas of race and identity. I will use found materials, new footage, various voices, and animation to interrogate these issues in a series of five non-linear acts tied together by the central themes.

Gabby Sumney (director):

Gabby Sumney (née Follett) is an Afro-Latinx, queer, nonbinary nonfiction filmmaker with a disability based in Boston, Massachusetts. They work in experimental nonfiction with a special emphasis on issues of identity and personal narrative. Their work has been screened at curated screenings and festivals across the US and Europe including Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, Indie Grits, and Fracto Film Encounter. Gabby is also the creator of This Week in Experimental, a weekly newsletter that features links to experimental films & videos, reading suggestions, and optional assignments.

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