Our Creative Team

Mara Ahmed (Director)

Mara Ahmed is an activist, artist and filmmaker based in Long Island, New York. She was educated in Belgium, Pakistan and the United States and has an MBA and a Master’s in Economics. She worked in finance until 2004, when she resigned from her corporate job in order to focus on art and film. She studied art at Nazareth College and film at the Visual Studies Workshop and the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Mara’s artwork has been exhibited at galleries in New York and California. Her shows are multimedia fusions of collage work, photography, graphic art and film work.

Mara’s first film, The Muslims I Know, premiered at the Dryden Theatre (George Eastman Museum) in 2008 and started a dialogue between American Muslims and people of other faiths. Her second film, Pakistan One on One, opened at the Little Theatre in 2011 and is a broad survey of public opinion about America, shot entirely in Lahore. Mara’s third film, A Thin Wall, explores the partition of India and possibilities of reconciliation. It premiered at the Bradford Literature Festival (in England) in 2015, won a Special Jury Prize at the Amsterdam Film Festival in 2016, and has been screened worldwide, most recently in Taiwan. A Thin Wall is available on Amazon’s Prime Video.

Mara is interested in dialogue across both physical and psychological boundaries. In 2017, she gave a Tedx talk about the meaning of borders and nationalism entitled “The edges that blur.” She is now working on ‘The Injured Body,’ a documentary about racism in America, focusing exclusively on the voices of women of color. The film is being fiscally sponsored by NYWIFT and is slated to premiere in 2021. Her production company is Neelum Films.

FOR ‘THE INJURED BODY’

Rajesh Barnabas (Cinematography)

Rajesh has a B.A. in Political Science and Economics from Geneseo University and a Masters in Teaching from Nazareth College. He began work as a journalist and photographer for various Rochester publications.

He initiated photography clubs for children and taught through the Rochester Community Darkroom. In the early 2000s, he transitioned to documentary filmmaking with the activist journalism outfit Rochester Indy Media.

He taught history and media in the Rochester City School District, then worked at Rochester Community TV under the tutelage of filmmaker Carvin Eison. Rajesh’s passion is for alternative, experimental, and activist media forms. He currently teaches media and filmmaking at Tampa Prep High School, in Florida.

Darien Lamen (Sound Design)

Darien Lamen is a producer, educator, and musician. He holds a PhD in Ethnomusicology from the University of Pennsylvania. Darien is an experienced ethnographer whose multimedia research projects in Brazil have been funded by the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies.

In 2016, he began work as radio producer and assistant news director at WORT in Madison, Wisconsin, producing hundreds of local news stories and interviews, and receiving an award for best audio story in 2016 from the Milwaukee Press Club, the oldest press club in North America.

He currently works as a producer/educator at Rochester Community Media Center and WXIR Community Radio in Rochester, New York, where he has collaborated with a range of diverse community partners to produce documentaries, podcast series, and advocacy video campaigns. He is also an active musician and co-founder of the Brazilian forró band, Estrelas do Norte.

Mariko Yamada (Dance Choreography)

Mariko Yamada is a Rochester-based choreographer, dance artist, and educator. Originally from Japan, she discovered dance as a young adult. She studied dance education at SUNY Potsdam for a BA and at The College at Brockport for an MFA. She is a lecturer at Nazareth College and The College at Brockport, where she teaches the creative aspects of dance and possibilities of movement. In addition to choreographing her own dance works and commissioned works, she enjoys expanding her artistic horizon by collaborating with artists from other disciplines. She recently collaborated with composer Octavio Vazquez for the Vision of Sound Concert, which toured Western New York. Her current project with filmmaker/activist/artist Mara Ahmed combines dance and film to investigate the underpinnings of racism. Mariko is also excited to be a part of Rochester Dance Theater’s multimedia production of ‘Ripple’ as it affords her more opportunities for collaboration.

Erica Jae (Photography)

Born in Rochester’s 19th ward, Erica Jae majored in social sciences with a concentration in mental health. She worked as an assistant manager, a clinical case manager, and a residential counselor in various group homes. But she always had a passion for photography: ‘My camera acts as an advocate, allowing me to tell the stories of the people within my community and beyond. My focus is to find beauty in the hidden gems, balance with the duality of light and dark, and stillness in the poetic rhythm of the streets.’ Erica’s work has been featured on NBC nightly news with Lester Holt and published in local magazines. Most of the photographs used in the construction of this website were taken by Erica.

Thomas Davis (Musical Score)

After a 33 year career as a public school educator, Tom Davis recently retired as K-12 Music Curriculum Area Lead Teacher and Director of Bands in the Canandaigua City School District. Tom earned degrees from Ithaca College and the Eastman School of Music. His prominent teachers and mentors include Rayburn Wright, Bill Dobbins, Manny Albam, Steve Brown, John LaBarbera, Ramon Ricker, Vincent DiMartino, composer Stephen Melillo and conductor/educator Edward Lisk. An active composer and conductor, Mr. Davis has published over 150 jazz, concert band, orchestra and chamber works through his company Tom Davis Music Publications as well as artistShareTM Educational Programs Publications (EPP), Heritage Jazz Works (Lorenz Publications), Kendor Music, Warner Brothers Publications, and Alfred Publications. Tom currently teaches Film Scoring and Composing for Video Games and interactive Media at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Imani Sewell (Soprano)

Imani Sewell grew up on Long Island before relocating to Rochester, New York, with her family in 2014. Since then, she has sung in choral and A cappella productions across Monroe County. She regularly participates in all-school recitals under Hochstein School of Music, where she has added over 50 pieces to her repertoire, genres including opera, concerto, jazz, pop, and musical theatre. In 2019, she sang with mixed university choirs at Carnegie Hall for Manhattan Concert Productions’ 20th Anniversary Concert. She graduated from Monroe Community College with an AS in Music Performance in 2019. Imani enjoys songwriting with a love for pop and R&B music. Writing since age 16, she is currently working on recording and releasing her music online, aspiring to reach a wide audience. When not performing, she can be found sketching, conceptualizing outfit ideas, and finding new recipes.

Chuck Munier @NXT Media (Post Production)

Chuck Munier

As the owner and senior editor at NXT Media, in Fairport, Chuck has over 37 years of experience in the video postproduction field. He began his career in 1981 working on film and video productions. As a sound recordist, he gained valuable experience working with writers, directors, producers and a variety of crew members on local, regional and national productions. After several years, he moved into video editing becoming one of a handful of editors using the latest computerized editing systems in the area. Through the years he has worked on a wide range of corporate videos, music videos, local and national broadcast programs and commercials. Chuck has also worked on independent films and documentaries, which have been broadcast on national television networks and American Public Television. His work has been shown across the country in national broadcasts and on American Public Television. Chuck has received numerous awards throughout his career including the Cine Golden Eagle award.

FOR ‘A THIN WALL’

Surbhi Dewan (Co-Producer)

Surbhi Dewan

Surbhi Dewan is an independent film director, writer & producer. Surbhi Dewan is an independent film professional. Her films connect personal portraits to larger socio-political landscapes. The predominant theme that runs through her work is how displacement shapes identity. She is deeply committed to presenting unique perspectives and humanizing ‘the other’ through her films. Surbhi’s notable films include DAUGHTER OF NEPAL (2018) – the filmmaker unravels an incredible story of a friend who spent her childhood in exile during the People’s War in Nepal (winner of Best Documentary & Best Director Award at SPIFF; official selection at IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival, UK Asian Film Festival, Mustard Seed Film Festival, IDSFFK); and A THIN WALL (2015) – personal narratives from the partition of India, shot on both sides of the India-Pakistan border (winner of ‘Special Jury Prize’ at Amsterdam Film Festival; official selection at South Asian Film Festival of Montréal, New York Indian Film Festival, San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival, Seattle South Asian Film Festival 2015).

Dave Sluberski @West Rush Productions (Post Sound)

Dave Sluberski is a Senior Lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Film and Animation, specializing in sound design and technology. He was a consultant on the design team for Magic Spell Studio for all state-of-the-art sound design. He was Senior Audio Technologist at WXXI Public Broadcasting Council/NPR-PBS affiliate for 25 years. Through his company, West Rush Media LLC, he has produced, designed and mixed audio for a wide variety of broadcast media and digital distribution networks, including independent feature films and documentaries. WRM clients include the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, WXXI Public Broadcasting Council, the University of Rochester and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as well as independent filmmakers. His many awards include the coveted George Foster Peabody Award (1994), as well as numerous Telly, Gabriel and NYS Emmy awards. Dave considers himself a recreational welder, and he and his wife, Dr. Sandra Boysen Sluberski, enjoy their classic cars and reside in Rush, NY.

Gayane Bagdasaryan (Animation)

Gayane Bagdasaryan

Gayane Bagdasaryan is a filmmaker who specializes in 3D and traditional animation, visual development, special effects and compositing. She was awarded a Fulbright scholarship and completed an MFA degree in animation from the Rochester Institute of Technology, in New York. She’s currently a student at Animation Mentor. Gayane’s films HOW THE RAIN STARTS, Encore, Encore, Encore and UNHINGED are hand-drawn animated films that explore philosophical themes. They were included in the RIT SOFA honors show and have been screened at well-known festivals. At present, Gayane is a pre-visualization and layout supervisor at an animation studio in Moscow, Russia. She also freelances for the Academy Award winning Alexandr Petrov Animation Studio. To learn more about her work, please visit www.gayanebagdasaryan.com.

FOR ‘PAKISTAN ONE ON ONE’

Hassan Zaman (Musical Score)

Sunny Zaman

Born in the Flower City, Sunny Zaman began playing music in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Upon his return to Rochester, Sunny started performing with roots rock bands, playing roots-reggae, Afro-beat, ska, and punk-rock. Sunny plays a variety of instruments including bass, electric and acoustic guitars, drum kit and percussion, and the piano. After high school, Sunny became involved in several creative projects around Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Rochester. He scored Mara Ahmed’s 2011 documentary film PAKISTAN ONE ON ONE. While at City University of New York, Brooklyn College, Anglo-American folk music began to penetrate Sunny’s artistic credo with much existential fervor, perhaps as a reaction to the severity of urban living, and in the winter 2014 he released his first solo EP of original folk music entitled Wollstonecraft.

Elizabeth Phillips (Assistant Editor)

Liz Phillips

Elizabeth Phillips is an independent filmmaker who provides art direction, production design, editing, and style assistance to films. She graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Animation and a minor in Art History. Liz is interested in pushing the possibilities of the film genre and developing a specific look and feel for each project she works on. Her own films have been selected for screening at several film festivals. Her most recent work garnered the Audience Choice Award for Best Film at the High Falls International Film Festival – Women of SOFA Show and the Audience Favorite Award for Mid-Atlantic Short at the New Hope Film Festival. Currently, Liz is in the process of editing her first novel. She hopes to be involved in the production of a short film this summer. She is available for freelance work.

FOR ‘THE MUSLIMS I KNOW’

Thom Marini (Cinematography)

Thom Marini

With 30 years of experience as a Cinematographer and Director of Photography, Thom Marini has had an interesting and varied career. While film and television production dominated his studies at the University of Miami and Ithaca College, Thom credits the exceptional filmmakers and crafts people he has worked with over the years for being his real mentors. As a cinematographer he has traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as Ireland, Germany, the U.K., Mexico and the Caribbean. His assignments have been varied and range from award winning commercials for the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City and Las Vegas featuring Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka, and Kenny Rogers; to filming Opel’s new car models on the company’s test tracks in Germany; to documenting the lives of the poor in the indigenous villages of Chiapas, Mexico. In addition to corporate films, TV spots and documentaries, he has acted as Director of Photography for three Independent Feature Films and performed 2nd Unit Photography for a fourth. Most recently Thom has joined Kodak’s “Stop By & Shoot Film” program as a teaching DP. Awards include CLIO, ADDYs, TELLYs and Cine Golden Eagle.

Teagan L. Ward (Musical Score)

Teagan Ward

Those familiar to the music scene and Rochester’s coffee house musicians may very well have heard the name Teagan Ward. In the August of 2006 issue of City Newspaper she was identified as one of six homegrown singer/songwriters identified as “The Chicks with Picks”. Frank DeBlaise of 98.9 The Buzz’s Sunday Night Shakedown said, “Ward’s voice is easily twice her size. That’s not to say this 19-year-old bellows; it’s just not what you expect out of such a slight frame. Nobody really expects 10-foot pipes out of a 5-foot-something woman.” And surely anyone who has attended one of her shows would have to agree she belts out her songs with passion and power. Taking her inspiration from a diverse sampling of musician including Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Natalie Merchant, Etta James, Susan Tedeschi, Patsy Cline, and Lori McKenna, to name a few, Teagan developed a natural vocal style that is as infectious as it is intoxicating. Her original melodies have that haunting effect that drive home her lyrics and touch a personal note in everyone. In the summer of 2006 Teagan and a few close musician friends banded together to form “Teagan and the Tweeds”. Together they have rounded out her music adding new dimension and enhancing her style. Teagan is a graduate of Our Lady of Mercy High School and is currently living in Greece while attending college. Alone or with The Tweeds one of Teagan’s performances is sure to be an enjoyable experience. As the Water Street Music Hall announcer stated the first time she played there, “Remember her name folks, because your going to be hearing a lot about this one in the future.” Teagan wrote the film’s theme song “Definitions”. “One in a million” (from her album “Two decades and a dream”) is also featured in the documentary. Check out Teagan’s CD at cdbaby.com.