Producer/director Bashirah Mack (‘22) has 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 $10,000 fellowship was created in 2014 through the efforts of Vivian Kleiman, Riggs’ former collaborator with funding from Signifyin’ Works, the Ford Foundation, and The Filmmaker Fund, and is awarded exclusively 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 making documentary films 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.
“I was born and raised with the knowledge and appreciation that I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors,” said Mack, a documentary candidate passionate about visual storytelling and ethical filmmaking practice. “To be here at Berkeley and to be awarded the Marlon T. Riggs Fellowship is the highest honor. To know that Riggs showed up as his whole self, through his work as a filmmaker, is a beautiful affirmation for me. This is all very surreal, and really affirming and encouraging at the same time. Also, I did that!”
“As a Black woman filmmaker from the Southeastern United States, I’m informed by the rich histories of the past, inspired to document the present, and eager to share testimony with those who might bear witness to our lives in the future,” Mack said. “I’m driven to produce work that reflects my community in all its nuance — to show and communicate the beauty, brilliance, and complications that are unique to our human experience and universal to the world.”
Mack’s creed is that our past deserves retelling, our present deserves preserving, and our future deserves informing. And she’s grateful to the mentors she’s found at UC Berkeley.
“I came to the J-School with an understanding of who I am and the stories I want to tell, and my advisers met me where I stood,” Mack said. “I’m driven to produce work that reflects my values — to uphold human dignity, show compassion and care to film participants, and expand artistic creativity. My advisors respect and believe in my creative and intellectual ability, and I’m pleased to train, work, and grow in an environment where they understand the care I put into my work and support me to get to the place I want to be as a filmmaker.”
Mack counts Jennifer Redfearn, Cassandra Herrman, Chris O’Dea, and Mike Shen among her “gentle guides” through her two years of professional training. “If it’s not troubleshooting some equipment while in the field, it’s workshopping story ideas and strategies for editing,” she said.
While reflecting recently with a friend, Mack realized just how much she’s grown in a short time at Berkeley. “When I started the program, there was a time I wasn’t sure if what I had to offer would find a place in the industry — if my vision and values for storymaking would be received and lead to a sustainable career,” Mack said. “But now, with all the positive feedback I get from story participants, from my production crew members, and this financial backing, I’m sure I have a place now and in the future. Berkeley showed me it’s possible.”
“I’m so thrilled for Bashirah to receive this honor,” said Redfearn, the head of the documentary film program. “Like Marlon Riggs, Bashirah brings a profound directorial vision and powerful voice to her documentary films. She also puts an exceptional amount of care and thought into entering the lives and stories of others, and I can’t wait to see her final film.”
This is Berkeley Journalism’s seventh year awarding the fellowship. Previous Marlon Riggs Fellows include Skyler Glover, Ashley Omoma, Bo Kovitz, Serginho Roosblad, Romin Lee Johnson and Nailah Morgan.
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