Press Release: Open Signal Labs Invests in African American Filmmakers

July 18, 2018

** NOTE: As of summer 2023, Open Signal Labs is now LABS Media, an independent creative studio and production company.**

Open Signal Labs Invests in African American Filmmakers

A new incubator for black filmmakers pushes the limits of creative storytelling and attempts to advance and diversify the film industry.

PORTLAND, OR. - July 18, 2018 – 
The future of media is black, says Open Signal Labs, a new incubator for emerging African American filmmakers that kicked off with a panel discussion yesterday afternoon. This program will convene six makers from Portland’s black community for a 12-month fellowship and laboratory for creative investigation.

Open Signal Labs is an initiative of Open Signal, a media arts and public access center, located on Northeast Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard in Portland.

The first program of its kind in the state of Oregon, this program addresses the stark lack of black voices in the film and television industry. According to a 2018 study by the University of Southern California, of the top 1,223 directors between 2007 and 2017, only 64, or 5%, were black. Of those 64 black directors, only 4 were women.

The vision for Open Signal Labs is to create a safe space for black mediamakers to create new narratives that will hit professional technical standards and innovate artistically. Ultimately, it will give the six hand-picked fellows the tools and connections to join — and lead — the current film and television industry.

Open Signal Labs will be led by Ifanyi Bell, a Northeast Portland native and accomplished filmmaker who has worked on professional film sets, as well as at public broadcasting stations, where he created Emmy-nominated work, including WGBH (Boston), KQED (San Francisco) and Oregon Public Broadcasting.

“I have always dreamt of creating and sharing artistic work in the unique envelope of black America and challenging the perception of the work of black creatives as being inherently political," Ifanyi said. "It feels particularly powerful and opportunistic to launch this program in Portland given the way it is perceived by the broader American culture.

“We will provide our fellows the best possible resources — cutting-edge filmmaking equipment and experienced industry professionals — and then time will tell,” he added. “We hope to create a safe space immune from outside influence that will inspire true innovation and authentic stories of black Americans."

Over the course of the year-long program, Open Signal Labs fellows will receive a $2,000 stipend, training, access to industry-standard equipment, staff and actors from Artists Repertory Theatre, as well as mentorship with media professionals and connections to the field from the Oregon Governor’s Office of Film & Television (Oregon Film).

Taking advantage of the diverse resources at Open Signal, the new work could incorporate virtual reality, experimental digital or analog technical. New narratives will push the boundaries of what storytelling can look, feel and sound like.

The program will connect fellows with mentors from Portland’s creative community as well as the professional industry nationwide. Primary mentors will be:

  • Los Angeles-based actress and producer Keena Ferguson of Atlanta
  • New York director and cinematographer Che Broadnax
  • Portland writer and film expert David Walker, author of the books Becoming Black and Reflections on Blaxploitation: Actors and Directors Speak

Three Portland natives — all of whom are lauded creative professionals — will provide additional training and career support:

  • Ime Etuk, first assistant director of Netflix’s Everything Sucks
  • New York Times bestselling author Renee Watson
  • Mitchell S. Jackson, author of The Residue Years

Portland-based writer and storyteller Béalleka Makau will also provide guidance to the fellows.

Pilot fellows for the 2018-19 program year will be Kamryn Fall, Elijah Hasan, Tamera Lyn, Sika Stanton, Noah Thomas and Dustin Tolman. The work they will create during their fellowship will be shared with the community in the summer of 2019.

“We take seriously our role as a community anchor in a historically black neighborhood, and as an organization that specializes in empowering people to be heard,” said Justen Harn, Open Signal Executive Director. “This is an opportunity for Open Signal to take the lead on equity in one of the most crucial ways that an arts organization can.

“This program represents a two-year investment at Open Signal in terms of visioning, research and development, and fundraising, and we couldn’t be more proud to launch a program that attempts to significantly advance talented individuals in this community and the film industry at large,” he continues. “This is the kind of initiative that our organization has been missing all along.”

Open Signal Labs is made possible by major support from the Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission and The Collins Foundation, with additional support from the Portland Film Office.



Rebecca BurrellDirector of Strategy & Development
Open Signal: Portland Community Media Center
(503) 673-8709

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