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For over 30 years, the SFFILM Mel Novikoff Award is given to an individual or institution whose work has enhanced the film-going public’s appreciation of world cinema. The Mel Novikoff presentation will include Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith in conversation with programmer and filmmaker Amber Love, followed by a screening of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.


Sat, Apr 15 at 3:15 pm

CGV San Francisco

3:15 pm: Award Presentation

3:45 pm: Screening

Mel Novikoff Award

The SFFILM Mel Novikoff Award is given to an individual or institution whose work has enhanced the film-going public’s appreciation of world cinema. The 2023 Mel Novikoff Award celebrates Firelight Media, a nonprofit that supports filmmakers of color.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

Stanley Nelson charts the Black Panther Party’s meteoric rise in the 1960s and its disintegration several years later.


Fed up with racial discrimination, poverty, and police brutality, Oakland’s urban Black youth were ready for radical change. For them, the BPP was the vehicle. Nelson’s film offers candid accounts by lesser known rank-and-file members—many of them women—who did the Black Panthers’ daily work. Packed with anecdotes and new revelations, the documentary captures the excitement of a time filled with idealism, internationalism, and impatience. Beyond explicating the party’s compelling political program, archival footage also reveals the members’ swaggering image and seductive style. With police brutality, the militarization of police departments, and government surveillance once again at the forefront of the American conversation, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution remains profoundly resonant. — Cornelius Moore, Festival 2015

Mel Novikoff Award

Award-winning filmmakers Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith founded Firelight Media in 1998 as a nonprofit documentary production company with a focus on telling stories seldom broached in mainstream media. Ten years later, the company adjusted its focus to concentrate on backing filmmakers of color, while Nelson led a new, for-profit documentary production house, Firelight Films. With labs, fellowships, and film funds, Firelight Media supports artists around the world. Their cohorrt includes 2022-2024 Firelight Documentary Fellows Silvia Del Carmen Castaños and Estefania “Beba” Contreras, whose debut feature, Hummingbirds, screens at this year’s Festival. Join SFFILM as the Novikoff Award returns to the festival and we celebrate Firelight Media for their enormous impact upon the independent film community.

Mel Novikoff Committee

  • John Cooper – Director Emeritus, Sundance Film Festival
  • A-Lan Holt – Artist & Arts leader; Director at the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University
  • Gary Meyer – Editor, Eat Drink Films; co-found Landmark Theatres; former co-director of the Telluride Film Festival
  • Susan Oxtoby – Director of Film and Senior Film Curator at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
  • Janis Plotkin – Producer; Programmer; co-founder and former co-director, San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
  • Rodrigo Reyes – Filmmaker; BAVC MediaMaker Fellowship Co-Director
  • Jessie Fairbanks, Director of Programming, and Rod Armstrong, Associate Director of Programming, on behalf of SFFILM



Director Stanley Nelson

Stanley Nelson is an award-winning filmmaker and a co-founder of Firelight Media. He is a 2002 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow. In 2013, he was awarded the National Medal in the Humanities by President Barack Obama. In 2016, he received a Peabody Award for his body of work and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Among his many films are The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swards (Festival 1999); Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (Festival 2006), winner of a special jury prize at the Tribeca Film Festival; Freedom Riders, winner of three Emmy Awards; Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Festival 2019); and Attica (Doc Stories 2021), nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Academy Award®.

Writer/Producer Marcia Smith

Marcia Smith is the president, as well as co-founder, of Firelight Media, winner of a MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions for its role in supporting diverse documentary filmmakers. She is also a producer and writer who frequently collaborates with director Stanley Nelson. Among their projects are Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind (2001); The Murder of Emmett Till (2003), for which she received a Primetime Emmy nomination and a Writers Guild Award for best nonfiction writing; Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple (2006); Freedom Riders (2009); Through the Fire: The Legacy of Barack Obama (2017); and Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities (2017). Among her honors are a 2016 New York Women in Film & Television Muse Award and a 2019 Blackstar Film Festival Luminary Award.

Film Details

Language English

Year 2015

Runtime 116

Country USA

Director Stanley Nelson

Executive Producer Sally Jo Fifer

Producer Laurens Grant, Stanley Nelson

Editor Aljernon Tunsil

Cinematographer Antonio Rossi, Rick Butler

Music Tom Phillips

Closed Captions Closed Captions are not currently confirmed and will be updated soon.

Audio Description Audio Descriptions are not currently confirmed and will be updated soon.

American Sign Language (ASL) Interpretation American Sign Language Interpretation is not currently confirmed and will be updated. For any questions about accessibility at SFFILM Events, please email ADA@SFFilm.org.