Stanley Nelson


Stanley Nelson has been acknowledged as one of the preeminent documentary filmmakers of our time. He has directed and produced over twelve documentary features, including: Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, Freedom Summer, Freedom Riders, Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple and The Murder of Emmett Till. Nelson’s latest film, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities, premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim.

Nelson has won every major award in broadcasting. In 2016, he was honored with a Lifetime Peabody Award, a Lifetime Emmy Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Documentary Association. He is a 2014 National Humanities Medalist, multiple Emmy Award winner, MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, and member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His film, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution premiered at Sundance, and went on to screen theatrically in 60 cities before breaking broadcast and social media records during its broadcast premiere on PBS’s Independent Lens in February 2016.  Freedom Summer premiered at Sundance in 2014 and was broadcast to rave reviews in June, 2014, the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer of 1964, and won a Peabody Award. His 2011 film, Freedom Riders, premiered at Sundance and aired in May, 2011 on PBS to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. The film received 4 Primetime Emmys. Nelson’s 2003 film, The Murder of Emmett Till, won the Primetime Emmy for Best Nonfiction Directing, the Special Jury Prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, a Peabody and an award from the International Documentary Association, among many others. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2008) was shortlisted for the Academy Award and won the International Documentary Association Award. His 2001 film, Running: the Campaign for City Council, highlighted the impact of campaign finance reform on local elections in New York City and was honored with the Henry Hampton award from the Council on Foundations and a CINE Golden Eagle. 

Nelson has appeared on numerous local and national television and radio programs, including PBS NewsHour, CBS Sunday Morning, NBC Nightly News, NPR’s Fresh Air, Oprah, Melissa Harris-Perry, and many others. He holds a BFA from City College of New York, and Honorary Doctorates from Duke and Haverford College.  He has taught documentary film production at Howard University, Brooklyn College, and the University of California, Berkeley and guest lectured at universities and film schools around the world.  

Nelson is also co-founder of Firelight Media, a nonprofit production company dedicated to using historical film to advance contemporary social justice causes, and to mentoring, inspiring and training a new generation of diverse young filmmakers committed to advancing underrepresented stories.