What keeps him motivated as an independent filmmaker:
Two things — the first is that I work with a wonderful core team of people: Christine, Kelly, and Wendy — they are the best. And secondly, we believe in our company mission, which is to create media that raises social consciousness and advances social justice issues.
His three favorite films:
This morning it’s Before The Rain, The Lives of Others, and Gimme Shelter. Talk to me in a half hour and I’d give you three different films.
His advice for aspiring filmmakers:
Don’t give up. Find collaborators. Meditate.
His most inspirational food for making independent film:
That’s a funny question. On each production we’ve had signature foods. For HERSKOVITS it was chocolate — 65 percent cacao at minimum — and Manischewitz matzos with organic peanut butter. And we ate lots of Thai food — too much, actually.
Smith is the president of Vital Pictures, Inc. As a writer/producer, he has contributed to several PBS series, including Eyes On The Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years; as series editor for the PBS history series American Experience, he played a key role in the origination, development, and acquisition of more than 70 programs on American history. Smith was project director for the Peabody and Emmy award-winning series Africans In America: America’s Journey Through Slavery. He directed the final film in the series Judgment Day. For the PBS series RACE: The Power Of An Illusion, Smith produced the episode “The House We Live In.” Smith was a producer/director for the three-hour special Reconstruction: The Second Civil War. He was also producer/director for “Forgotten Genius,” the NOVA biography of Dr. Percy Julian, the pioneering industrial chemist and civil rights activist. “Forgotten Genius” was recently honored for broadcast excellence by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Smith was also co-executive producer for the PBS series Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?
Herbes-Sommers is vice president of Vital Pictures, Inc. She was senior series producer for Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? In recent years, she served as executive director of communications and media for the Big Picture Schools, an innovative public school network where she designed a comprehensive system of programming and produced a serial, long-form documentary called The Advisory. From 2001 to 2003, she produced the first hour of the acclaimed PBS series RACE: The Power of An Illusion. After living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with her family in the early 1990s, Herbes-Sommers joined the educational programming department at WGBH in 1993 as senior producer, bringing six multi-part series and more than 50 hours of multiplatform programming to completion. In more than 25 years, Herbes-Sommers has produced a wide range of PBS documentaries and dramas, earning her an Emmy nomination, a duPont Columbia Award for her ground-breaking documentary Joan Robinson: One Woman’s Story, several Cine Golden Eagles, and many other awards.
Producer/Director of Research
Brown is the Dunwalke Associate Professor of American History at Harvard University. He is an award-winning author and media maker with a keen interest in the political implications of cultural practice. Professor Brown teaches courses in Atlantic history, African diaspora studies, and the history of slavery, and is the author of The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery (Harvard University Press, 2008), which received the Merle Curti Award, the James A. Rawley Prize, and the Louis Gottschalk Prize in 2009.