Producer/directors William Jenkins, Myah Overstreet and Alfredo Torres (‘23) have been awarded one of Berkeley Journalism’s top honors, the Marlon T. Riggs Fellowship in Documentary Filmmaking.
Named for the late filmmaker, alumnus and professor Marlon T. Riggs (’81), the fellowship was created in 2014 with funding from Signifyin’ Works, the Ford Foundation, The Filmmaker Fund, and individual donors. It is awarded annually to second-year students in the documentary program.
Riggs, the pioneering Black, gay filmmaker of “Tongues Untied,” “Ethnic Notions,” and “Je Ne Regrette Rien (No Regret),” was known for documentaries confronting racism and homophobia that thrust him onto the center stage in America’s culture wars of the early 1990s. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Riggs graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and received his master’s degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where he became the youngest tenured professor at the Graduate School of Journalism. His life and career were tragically cut short by AIDS complications when he was 37.
This year, the talent was so strong and the need so great that the school decided to divide the fellowship.
“We ultimately decided to award the fellowship to three talented students whose projects align with Marlon Riggs’ legacy of examining racist systems, love and sexuality, and his powerful personal storytelling,” Jennifer Redfearn, head of the documentary program, said. “From stories of Black families confronting social justice issues to a portrait of an LGBTQ+ shelter in Tijuana for migrating families, each film takes inspiration from Marlon Riggs’ profound body of work.”
All three share a deep respect for Riggs.
“To be named alongside such a revolutionary and introspective filmmaker as Riggs is the ultimate accolade,” Jenkins said. “I must fulfill an obligation of telling honest, bold stories that stretch and challenge audiences– similar to Riggs. His body of work means telling the truth is what’s most important, even if the viewer can’t handle it.”
Torres said the way Riggs engaged with culture, narrative and form was transformational for him. “His approach, so critical, yet so sensitive and nuanced, inspires so much of what I strive to someday achieve in my own practice as a storyteller,” Torres said. “Receiving an award in his name is both a huge honor and responsibility that I take very seriously.”
Overstreet said being selected for the award shows “the filmmaking industry is changing and making room for bold, new stories to be told.” She also thanked Redfearn, Jason Spingarn-Koff, and Lisa Armstrong for their mentorship and encouragement.
Jenkins said he appreciated the collaborative environment of the documentary program, where students work with a shared goal of making great documentaries. Torres said the program offered him the opportunity to experience a full production workflow under the guidance of professionals, while also giving him the space and time to take chances as a filmmaker. “The experience of creating meaningful work next to and in collaboration with such talented and supportive classmates is an experience that is hard to replicate, an experience that I know I will miss dearly,” he said.
Help the next generation by making a tax-deductible donation to our Fine Cut Fund today. The fund supports documentary and multimedia projects and helps defray the hard costs of production — travel and shooting expenses, outlays for equipment and research.
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