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.”

Chris Rizzo

Chris Rizzo

Chris Rizzo is a New York based film editor, who has contributed to a variety of long form and commercial projects. Chris has worked with directors including Alex Gibney, Martin Granger and Earle Sebastian, to name a few. Chris joined Final Cut New York in 2016, and has edited campaigns for Comcast, HBO, Subaru and Amazon RED. Additionally, he was an editor on ‘Stray Dolls’, a narrative feature from director Sonejuhi Sinha. He lives in the Bronx with his wife and daughter.

“It’s been an incredible opportunity to work with BYkids and to contribute to Rinzin’s story. Bhutan is a fascinating and beautiful country, and documenting Rinzin’s spiritual discovery has been a deeply moving and rewarding experience.”

Cat Papadimitriou

Cat Papadimitriou

Cat Papadimitriou is a filmmaker born and based in New York City. Her first narrative feature NIA ON VACATION won the Orpheus Award for best picture at the London Greek Film Festival in 2020 and she is currently in development on her second feature. Cat has been an integral part of the production team of past BYkids films, including MY BEAUTIFUL NICARAGUA and FIRE IN OUR HEARTS. She looks forward to many more.

“It’s somewhat unusual that a teenager has a hard time talking about themselves, so helping Rinzin tell this story was uniquely challenging. That this film is set in a Buddhist country with someone like Rinzin makes it unlike any other film I have been a part of, and I’m so excited to share it with the world.”

Hollis Meminger

Hollis Meminger

Hollis Meminger is a renowned cinematographer with numerous film and television credits such as: The Blacklist (NBC), Narcos (Netflix) and Younger (TVLand). He is also a passionate documentarian, focusing on projects which feature the marginalized community. He is currently working on a sequel to the Academy Award Nominated film, Streetwise. Meminger is a recent graduate and now alumni advisor to the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program, and founded the Bridgebuilder Cinematic Arts Program, where he teaches filmmaking to high school students in some of the roughest neighborhoods in the country.

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 is a documentary filmmaker from Kentucky. He most recently directed and produced Building a Bridge, which premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival and was executive produced by Martin Scorsese. Evan co-founded the NYC-based Player Piano Productions, where his most recent films have appeared on Sundance TV, AMC+, Al Jazeera, and PBS and have been featured in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and Hollywood Reporter, among others.

Evan joined BYkids as a mentor in 2019. He produced Against the Current as part of BYkids Season 3, where he mentored Daunnette Moniz-Reyome, a Native American teen activist. He is currently working on a film for season 4 of BYkids with Keith Griffith III, a young beekeeper in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

Dr. Zuberoa Marcos

Dr. Zuberoa Marcos

Zuberoa Marcos strongly believes in the power of science, education and storytelling to change the world. She is a producer and director known for her ability to capture extraordinary stories that unravel the complexity of our universe with simplicity, insight and beauty for a wide range of audiences. She has created highly-successful documentaries and shows for TV, short films and digital series that have reached over one billion people globally and have garnered her over 30 international awards. Her 2015 documentary series “Roman Engineering” won the coveted Bronze World Medal at the New York Festivals TV & Film Awards, as well as multiple recognitions for its visual effects, cinematography, script and educational value. Before her career in television Zuberoa was a scientist doing research in the field of molecular biology.

“Many people empowered me to be who I am. With BYkids now I have the opportunity to do the same with a young person using the art of storytelling, my passion, and I can’t think of a more meaningful mission. Young people are key. Their aspirations and achievements will shape the future. The act of telling one’s story is, itself, an act of self-empowerment. But it can also inspire and change others by watching real stories of overcoming struggles with fear, with lapses of confidence, or with cultural norms. Sharing stories of personal triumph has the potential to give hope, to inspire, to improve lives and that’s what the world needs more than ever. That’s why I’m thrilled to be part of the BYkids team.”