We Built A World: Five Takeaways from the 2023 Color Congress Convening

Chandler Phillips • October 18, 2023

We’re feeling the weight of a documentary film ecosystem that was not built for all of us to thrive. Representing narrative work, the recent WGA strike and ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike are still testament to this truth for the film world at large. Our industry is at a crossroads: continue in this system or create anew. Color Congress has no hesitation on which path they are ready to take.

Founded in 2020, Color Congress is a collective body of organizations led by and supporting people of color in the documentary industry. Their vision is to “actualize a reimagined documentary landscape toward one that strengthens people of color visibility, voice, and power, laying the groundwork for a future of the field that is a more powerful force for social change.”

Brown Girls Doc Mafia (BGDM) is honored to be one of the member organizations who has been virtually meeting over the past three years. Our sessions are spaces to learn from one another and vision how we move towards change. BGDM was grateful to be a part of the inaugural Color Congress Convening held on Sep 13–14, 2023. Filled with speakers, ideation sessions, and working groups, this Convening marked the first time all member organizations gathered together in person. What unfolded was something difficult to describe.

We built a world together. A world in which:

  • Documentary filmmakers are holistically supported
  • Accessibility is a standard practice of ensuring all people have what they need to flourish
  • Arts organizations are rooted in a culture of rest, imagination, and creativity
  • Distribution models prioritize project and artist support over profits
  • Audience is not sacrificed for awards
  • Laughter is ever present
  • Resources are ensured
  • People of color in the documentary world have deep community, support, access, power and space to continue to imagine.

Leola Studios LLC
Photo by Leola Studios LLC

The Color Congress organizing team — Sonya Childress, Sahar Driver and Andrea Ayala — brilliantly and thoughtfully curated two days to dream and strategize a new documentary ecosystem. Over the next three months, member organizations will decide on one initiative to invest in during 2024 — one piece of this world. And in time, more seeds will root.

So how do you build a world? How do we move to change the documentary industry of today into something sustainable and life-giving for tomorrow? Here are a few lessons some BGDM members and staff had to share:


I'm feeling like I'm not alone. We are on the same page, we understand each other and we have so much in common that we can just keep moving forward, dreaming and working together. Wonderful things are ahead. I have this deep sense that anything is possible. - Consuelo Alba, Watsonville Film Festival Executive Director & Co-Founder


We must dream with no limits. In a world building session, speaker Karim Ahmad said that we’re “not designing a future where we’re settling for something.” Too often, we cut short this process of dreaming and what follows is a reality of compromise. We must stretch our creativity to imagine a way of being that more than supports us but makes for flourishing we’ve yet to even imagine. That is the first step. It creates the foundation for all that is to follow. Color Congress reminded us that our collective imagination is the key to change. - Chandler Phillips, BGDM Community Programs Manager


Being here has really inspired me. I saw my past, present and future self here. I’m privileged that my introduction to this industry has been meeting other Muslim filmmakers and meeting Black women who have been producers for 20+ years. To meet [them] in community and colletiveness…I think I was meant to meet [them] to see myself. This is something that will definitely be a milestone in my life and my career and my relationship to storytelling as a creative. - Salwa Abdussabur, Black Haven Executive Director

Photo by Leola Studios LLC


For me, the big concept is kinship and that’s exactly how I'd describe the room. I feel like we were all praying for this to happen before we had the words to articulate that we needed this. It's manifesting, it's real and we found our kinship. We found each other and it's a family in the making. - Brenda Avila-Hanna, Watsonville Film Festival Team

In the documentary field, BGDM has been the space where I feel the safest because it’s all femme and nonbinary folks of color. When Dr. Kamilah was talking about kinship and our wounds, and how our wounds come in the way of our kinship, that’s something I’ve been grappling with a lot in spaces outside of BGDM. If we don't have that kinship we can't build anything together. In BGDM, even though there are thousands of us, we have that kinship just because of our shared experiences. Under patriarchy it's very hard for me to find any space other than a space like BGDM to really feel safe. Now I feel like even outside of BGDM maybe it is possible and I see a ray of hope for that from this conference. - Rahi Hasan, Undocumented Filmmakers Collective Co-Founder


What I appreciate so much about Color Congress is the courage to confront. Facilitator Melinda Weekes-Laidlow said “You cannot heal a thing by pretending it’s not there.” We must be willing to be honest with ourselves at all levels. In what ways have these systems harmed us and our people? In what ways are we complicit to these powers that be? How do these patterns show up organizationally, collectively, systematically in the spaces we enter? This truth sharing is not always easy and in fact we have seen peers targeted and siloed because of it. Color Congress created brave, embodied space for us to be honest with one another in ways that uplift care throughout the process. We must continue to build room that facilitate honest dialogue in order to move to honest change. - Chandler Phillips, BGDM Community Programs Manager

Photo by Leola Studios LLC

Chandler Phillips
Chandler Phillips

Chandler (she/they) is a social worker, arts organizer, ecotherapist, and visual artist, who employs an integrative approach to holistic care in community organizing. As the former Manager of Impact and Engagement at Sundance Institute, Chandler led initiatives that supported over 500 independent arts organizations.