Birmingham Filmmakers named finalists in prestigious Tribeca Film Institute competition

Photo of Birmingham-based filmmaker Jessica Chriesman on the left. Photo courtesy of Jessica Chriesman

Birmingham-based filmmakers Jessica Chriesman and Kayla Gladney have been named finalists in Tribeca Film Institute’s IF/Then Shorts American South Pitch.

The 2019 TFI IF/Then Shorts pitch opportunity in partnership with the Surdna Foundation centers on the topic of Inclusive Economies.

The pitch called for original stand-alone short documentaries that explore themes of economic inclusion and resilience through a regional and place-based lens.


Chriesman and Gladney’s film –  Bridge to Better – highlights the work of A.G. Gaston and his legacy in Birmingham’s black businesses of today.

Unveiling of the A.G. Gaston Boulevard signs at the A.G. Gaston Motel on July 1, 2019. Photo by Jon Eastwood for Bham Now

The film follows the story of Isaac Cooper, a self-made financial advisor; Tabilah Bayles, a home-grown tax and finance guru; and Damian Carson, a dedicated business coach – three entrepreneurs working to improve the state of black businesses in Birmingham. These three are continuing A.G. Gaston’s legacy by taking the economic stability of their community into their own hands.

Cooper was recently featured in a Bham Now story about the opening of the new A.G. Gaston exhibit at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.


Isaac Cooper, the youngest BCRI board member and CEO of IMC Financial Consulting, a Financial Services Company. Photo courtesy of Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

In the story, he describes Gaston’s life as a catalyst for young entrepreneurs.

“When we look at A.G. Gaston as an example, and the businesses that he created and still exist, I’m excited about future entrepreneurs learning about what Gaston exemplified,” said Cooper. It is going to have a catalytic response for minority entrepreneurs in general across the nation.”

A Different Kind of Film Pitch

Tribeca Film Institute champions storytellers to be catalysts for change in their communities and around the world. Each year, they identify a diverse group of exceptional filmmakers and media artists then empower them with funding and resources to fully realize their stories and connect with audiences.

The nonprofit arts organization was  founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff in the wake of September 11, 2001.


“What makes this Inclusive Economies pitch unique is that it aims to highlight character-led stories in which systemically excluded people and places in the South are maximizing their economic potential as creators, innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders,” according to Tribeca’s call for entries. This year’s IF/Then American South Pitch seeks to amplify individuals and communities who are leveraging their social, cultural, financial, intellectual, and creative capital to create their own new economic realities.”

Both UAB graduates, Chriesman and Gladney will be pitching their film concept in front of an industry jury at the New Orleans Film Festival against five other finalists on Friday, October 18. The winning pitch will be awarded $25,000 to complete their film.

“We are so excited to have the opportunity to tell a story of Birmingham in this competition,” says Chriesman. “Not only are we proud to be representing our city as filmmakers, we are delighted to center Birmingham, its history, and its citizens in our film.”

Jessica Chriesman is an independent filmmaker and Media Production Manager at Impact America, a nonprofit headquartered in Birmingham. Her work can be found at jessicachriesman.com.

Filmmaker Kayla Gladney. Photo courtesy of Jessica Chriesman

Kayla Gladney is a visual storyteller and the owner and founder of DawnG Media. Her work can be found at dawngmedia.com.


Both have screened in film festivals across the US including Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival and Florence’s George Lindsey UNA Film Festival.

To learn more about theTribeca Film Institute IF/Then Shorts American South Pitch visit the New Orleans Film Society website at https://neworleansfilmsociety.org/events/if-then-documentary-short-film-program/ 

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.