Category: Mentors


Chris Zalla

Chris worked with Neal Baer (Executive Producer of Law & Order: SVU) and Alcides Soares in Mozambique to help make the first BYkids film.

Chris is a writer-director whose first film, Padre Nuestro, won the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. He wrote a feature film set in a Bolivian Prison, entitled Marching Powder, for Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment.

Chris received an MFA with Honors in directing from Columbia University’s Graduate Film Division, where the faculty awarded him a full Departmental Research Assistant fellowship for merit as a top student. He also served as a teaching assistant at Columbia, where he instructed undergraduates in weekly classes in film history, theory and craft. Chris was born in Kisumu, Kenya and spent much of his youth overseas. He has also worked as a rough carpenter and spent nine summer seasons as a commercial salmon fisherman in Alaska’s Bering Sea. He is fluent in Spanish and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.


Mary Soan

An assistant director on many international feature films including Welcome to Sarajevo, Before the Rain, Kama Sutra, Madness of King George, Mansfield Park, Narnia, Pearl Harbor and Bridget Jones Diary, Mary is also a founder member of FilmAid International and sits on the Advisory Committee of FilmAid US and on the Board of FilmAid International UK.

“Working with FilmAid I have had the privilege to witness first hand the incredible healing power of shared storytelling through personal film-making amongst the youth in the refugee camps of Eastern Africa.

BYkids will give voice to the incredible resilience of children and young people to overcome adversity against all odds. By ensuring this voice is heard through the dissemination of these films throughout the developed world, BYkids will help raise awareness of the responsibility we all share in ensuring that new generations are given support for a safe and secure childhood not just in the immediate aftermath of a disaster or tragedy but for the long term future. What a privilege.”


Dirk Simon

Dirk regards his escape from East Germany at the age of 21 before the Wall fell as one of the most important decisions of his life. “There are parallels between my experience and that of Tibetans today.”

With a degree from the Academy of Performing Arts in West Germany, Dirk started his career as an independent filmmaker in 2002. Based in Denver, he has worked on films as a director, director of photography, co-producer and lead actor. His last film, Between the Lines, received international recognition for exposing the truth about a murderer seeking freedom at the Berlin Wall.

Dirk teaches film at the University of Colorado at Denver and is the Director of Corporate Development for the Vail Film Institute and the Vail Film Festival.

“The young generation of Tibetans is caught between the stereotype of peaceful Buddhists and desire to fight for freedom. As the only recognized descendent of the Great Religious Kings of Tibet, 16-year-old Namgyal Wangchuk feels this conflict like none other. Although he understands the importance of striving for the freedom of his people, he has a unique responsibility to carry on the traditions and duties of his forefathers. BYkids will provide him the opportunity to share with an international audience both his unique perspective and the story of his generation.”


Alicia Sams

Alicia Sams is currently producer/director of Arab American Stories, a 13-episode series for public television launching in 2012. Her most recent film, as producer/director (with Amy Rice), is the Emmy-Award winning film By The People: The Election of Barack Obama, which premiered on HBO in 2009. Also in 2009, Sams was executive producer of Cherien Dabis’ award-winning debut feature Amreeka. Sams traveled with the film to Tunisia in December 2010 as part of the Sundance Institute’s Film Forward program, a cultural diplomacy initiative sponsored by the President’s Committee on the Arts, the NEA and the NEH.

Other productions include: Toots; Wanderlust; Buddy; Grateful Dawg; Hello He Lied: And Other Truths from the Hollywood Trenches; Press On, and others.

She is a graduate of Harvard University, magna cum laude in English and American Literature. She often guest lectures and has spoken at University of Pennsylvania, New York University, Smith College, Dickinson College, Northwestern University, DePaul University, among other schools.

“What better way for kids to become an active part of the global community than by finding their own voice or hearing stories of other kids from around the world.”


Albert Maysles


In addition to his role on the Board and his deep commitment to starting BYkids, the late Albert Maysles served as a Film Mentor to a New York City youth of Muslim background whose story sheds light on the issue of identity and faith in America today. Among the world’s pre-eminent documentary filmmakers and the dean of American documentary filmmaking, Albert is recognized as the pioneer of “direct cinema,” the distinctly American version of French “cinema verité.” His films include Salesman, Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens and Oscar-nominated LaLee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton.

“BYkids is one of the most exciting projects to come my way in a long time. The idea of giving youth around the world the tools to tell their own stories with the expert help of filmmakers is brilliant and will go a long way in opening the eyes of Americans to the voices of kids and to the richness of the world. I am thrilled to be part of this team. With Holly’s guidance, contacts, energy and vision, this is sure to be a widespread success.

Storytelling is crucial to our existence as humans and it is what deeply connects us. It is my pleasure to support such a worthwhile project, and I am doing everything I can to be sure this is a big success. I look forward to my work as a Board member and as a Film Mentor for BYkids.”

Evan Mascagni

Evan Mascagni

Evan Mascagni is a former attorney turned filmmaker from Louisville, Kentucky. He directed the feature length documentary, Circle of Poison, which aired on Al Jazeera in 2016. The Hollywood Reporter called the film “an eye-opening and ire-raising doc” and it was the recipient of multiple awards and screened at film festivals across the world.

Evan is a co-founder of Player Piano Productions, a boutique film production company based in New York City, where he produces non-fiction films and branded content for non-profit organizations and social impact companies.

Evan also serves as the Policy Director of the Public Participation Project, a non-profit organization working to strengthen First Amendment rights for filmmakers, journalists and activists across the country.


Celia Lowenstein

Celia Lowenstein has directed and produced over fifty films with subject matters extending across science, art, philosophy, human portraits, dance, and music. She has worked in a variety of cinematic genres, including fly-on-the-wall documentary-making, narrative fiction (including musicals), films in verse, and long- and short-form documentaries, often of great ethnographic appeal.

She has traveled all over the world with small and large crews, and her work has been commissioned by the BBC, PBS, Channel 4 (UK), Channel 5 (UK), ARTE/ZDF, Planete (France), Discovery, National Geographic, NOVA, Animal Planet, and CBS.

Her film and television work has received critical acclaim, and she has been the recipient of numerous awards, nominations, and academic residencies, including an Emmy nomination and selections at some of the most prestigious film festivals worldwide.

“BYkids offers a unique possibility of mentoring a creative journey with a child. Their films take us not only back to childhood, but to stories that change how we know the world.”


Cynthia Lowen

Cynthia Lowen is the co-creator, producer and writer of BULLY, a feature documentary film following five kids and families through “a year in the life” of America’s bullying crisis, premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival and released by The Weinstein Company. Lauded by reviewers, BULLY was awarded the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Award for excellence in journalism and is currently nominated for two Emmys. Drawing on BULLY’s success, the filmmakers created The BULLY Project Social Action Campaign, a collaborative effort in partnership with multiple organizations, brands and corporate sponsors, sharing a commitment to ending bullying. Featured at several summits on education and school climate, in April of 2012 BULLY was screened at the White House.

Cynthia is also a writer and winner of the National Poetry Series for her collection, “The Cloud That Contained the Lightning.” She’s the recipient of the Women Authoring Change fellowship from William Morris Entertainment and the Discovery prize, as well as residencies at The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, among other honors.

“Kids crave opportunities for their voices to be heard; for the chance to show us the world through their eyes. BYkids empowers these young documentarians as they challenge stereotypes, stand up to injustice and offer wisdom we can all learn from.”


Elizabeth Hummer

Elizabeth Hummer has been committed to empowering young people to create the best lives for themselves since the early 90’s. She has worked for Sesame Workshop, Nickelodeon, PBS (Cyberchase, In the Mix), and MTV, giving kids cameras to help them tell their stories. She also helps them find jobs in production.

Her work in children’s media has received two Emmy Awards and four nominations. She aspires to bring video into the classroom as a form of academic expression.

Elizabeth is proud to be on the producing team of Poet Against Prejudice, the most recent BYkids film.

Outside of production, Elizabeth leads Harlem fifth graders on Sierra Club nature excursions and is on the Board of Trustees of the Shelburne Museum in Vermont.

“Young people are in a rapidly evolving state of making sense of their worlds and their place within it. By helping youth to tell their stories authentically, BYkids assists them to become more grounded in their personal truth and confident about their place in the world – locally and globally. I am proud to be a shepherd to the personal wisdom of young people on behalf of BYkids. Nothing is more effective in bringing peace to the world than this universal self-knowledge.”


Susan Hoenig

Susan was the first BYkids Board member and serves as a Film Mentor to María Ceballos Paz, a 16-year-old girl who is one of the estimated four million Colombians driven from their homes by decades of civil war. With Susan’s mentoring, María puts a human face on the cost of civil war and the drug trade.

Among Hollywood’s top TV producers, Susan has produced shows for Discovery, National Geographic, Fox, ABC, NBC and CBS. She received an Emmy nomination for Undercover Boss.

“I am truly excited to be a part of a project that provides a forum for children to tell their own stories, stories that are often the most genuine yet often misinterpreted or never even heard. By giving them the tools to create their own documentaries, these stories can finally be told from their perspective, a point of view that will hopefully strike a chord with others in similar situations throughout the world. By enabling such storytelling, BYkids will work to bridge cultural gaps, as well as help illustrate the universality of the human condition. At a time when people tend to focus on our differences as opposed to our similarities, such a contribution is invaluable.”