Firelight Media
Firelight Films

Veteran EMMY award winning documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s latest work is an ambitious two-hour documentary and multimedia project that explores the pivotal role Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have played in American history, culture, and national identity.

An official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the ongoing 2017 Sundance Film Festival, the first ever project of its kind on HBCUs is titled “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” It features the voices, photos, letters, diaries, home movies and a variety of never before seen or heard media that reveal this important aspect of collective American History, via the many stories from HBCU students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The documentary tells stories of Americans who would not be denied a higher education, demonstrating how the 150-year history of HBCUs has influenced generations of Americans and shaped the landscape of the country.

Nelson produces the feature documentary via his prolific Firelight Films production company.

To coincide with the premiere of the film, the production team also launched – an online space where HBCU students, alumni, families and faculty are invited to contribute to the documentary and multimedia project by sharing personal photos, videos, and stories capturing their individual HBCU experiences. All contributed content to the website will be curated and shared in the HBCU Rising Digital Yearbook, and during HBCU campus and community events leading up to the film’s TV premiere on PBS in October 2017.

“To tell this important and complex story, it is essential that our documentary highlights personal accounts, letters, diaries, photographs, and even home movies of the people who have lived the HBCU experience,” Nelson said about the effort in a previous statement. “We’re honored to produce the first film on the history of HBCUs, but we are equally excited to use technology to collaborate with audiences because the story of HBCUs far surpasses what can be told in one documentary… It’s the personal stories of innumerable lives transformed by these institutions over hundreds of years at the forefront of this narrative, and this is our effort to leave no story behind.”

So you’re encouraged to go to and follow the instructions on how to contribute to the effort.

The documentary is Nelson’s ninth World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Co-produced by ITVS, “Tell Them We Are Rising” will premiere on the PBS series Independent Lens in 2017.

Coinciding with its Sundance Film Festival premiere this week, a first teaser trailer for the new documentary has premiered and is embedded below: