Season 1 Films BYkids Mentors

Meet the film mentors from Season 1 of Films BYkids.

Home Is Where You Find It (Mozambique)

Neal Baer

“Storytelling is our basic way of communicating our dreams, our hopes and our fears. Yet many stories go unheard, stories that could move us, stories that could motivate us to take action, because the poor and the disenfranchised too often do not have the technology to tell their personal tales. BYkids gives these youth a voice, by giving them a camera and a mentor. Now, through the work of BYkids, the world will get to see and hear their moving stories. What better way to share my love of storytelling than by helping young people who are aching to share their lives?”

Neal Baer is a pediatrician and television writer who combines his passion for medicine and storytelling to challenge audiences’ views on a spectrum of social and political topics.  Prior to his work as Executive Producer and Showrunner for Under the Dome, Dr. Baer was Executive Producer and Showrunner of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, which received six Emmys and a Golden Globe for acting, and Executive Producer of the NBC hit series ER, where he received five Emmy nominations as a producer and two for writing.

Recently, Dr. Baer produced If You Build It, a documentary chronicling high school students in the poorest county in North Carolina who build a farmers’ market to save their community, which aired on PBS in June and September 2015.

Dr. Baer joined the Department of Community Health Sciences at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health as a Research Scientist in 2013 and is now an Adjunct Professor. There he established the Global Media Center for Social Impact (GMI), where he currently is working on projects using new media to promote health initiatives around the world.

Dr. Baer’s latest project at GMI is, a web-based social networking platform that bridges the gap between inspiration and action. After individuals see a documentary, read a book, or attend a museum exhibition, they can take actions related to themes raised by artistic or academic works.

In addition, Dr. Baer is a Senior Fellow at USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism and lectures around the world on the power of storytelling to change lives. His second novel, Kill Again, co-written with Jonathan Greene was published July 2015. Dr. Baer lives in Los Angeles. His son, Caleb, is a student at Williams College.

Neal travelled to Mozambique in August 2007 to work with 16-year-old Alcides Soares. Alcides tells his story of recreating family after having lost both of his parents to AIDS.

Neal grew up in Denver, Colorado; graduated from Cherry Creek High School in Englewood, Colorado; attended Colorado College, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Medical School. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Chris Zalla

“It’s not often in life you get to share your gifts in order to empower others. Success has no better reward.”

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.

My Country Is Tibet (Tibet)

Dirk Simon

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“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.”

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 taught film at the University of Colorado at Denver and was the Director of Corporate Development for the Vail Film Institute and the Vail Film Festival until moving back to Germany.

Fire In Our Hearts (India)

Joyce Chopra

“When we see the world through the eyes of these courageous young film-makers, we can all learn so much about different cultures throughout the globe and about the universal experiences that unite us. I am thrilled to become a BYkids mentor to a young girl from India, who has an important story to tell us. As a film director, I have always been drawn to stories about vulnerable young people, from the rebellious teen played by Laura Dern in the fiction film Smooth Talk to the kids I’ve been privileged to work with in documentaries. Gramercy Stories, my most recent documentary, followed the lives of homeless gay and transgender kids in Manhattan, and I was constantly amazed at the courage these young people showed in the face of difficulties most of us would collapse under. BYkids’ mission to have young people from around the globe shape their own film stories so that we may learn from them is truly inspiring. I feel fortunate to be part of it.”

Joyce Chopra has produced and directed a wide range of award-winning films, ranging from Smooth Talk, winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Dramatic Feature at the Sundance Film Festival, to the A&E thriller The Lady in Question with Gene Wilder.

She has received American Film Festival Blue Ribbon and Cine Golden Eagle Awards for her numerous documentaries, including That Our Children Will Not Die, about primary health care in Nigeria, and the autobiographical Joyce at 34, which is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Joyce grew up in Coney Island, New York and went to Lincoln High School. She graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in Comparative Literature and currently lives in Charlottesville, VA.

Displaced But Not Defeated (Colombia)

Susan Hoenig

“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.”

Susan 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.

Susan grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut and went to Greenwich High School. Susan graduated from Brown University and lives in LA.

Poet Against Prejudice (United States)

Albert Maysles

“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.”

Albert (1926-2015) was recognized as the pioneer of “direct cinema,” the distinctly American version of French “cinema verité.” His films include The Gates, Salesman, Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens, Iris, and Oscar-nominated LaLee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship (1965), a Peabody, an Emmy, five Lifetime Achievement Awards, the award for best cinematography at Sundance (2002), and the Columbia Dupont Award (2004). Eastman Kodak saluted him as one of the 100 world’s finest cinematographers.

Albert grew up in Dorchester, MA. Albert originally pursued a career as a psychology professor and researcher. After serving in World War II, Albert obtained a BA from Syracuse University and a MA in psychology from Boston University.  He lived in New York City until he died in March 2015.