Class of 2015 Bios

kathiKathi Barnhill
I earned a BA in studio art from Guilford College then completed a Master of Social Work at the University of Oklahoma. My clinical social work career focused on children with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from abuse. As a play based therapist, I witnessed children using the power of storytelling to heal themselves and reshape their perceptions of the world around them. After leaving clinical social work, I traveled independently for six months in Laos, Cambodia, India, Spain and France. During these travels, I discovered Phare Sonleu Solpak(PPS), a circus school in Battambang, Cambodia then returned to Cambodia the following year as a volunteer at PPS. While there, I completed a book of portraits and interviews featuring the artists of the show “Putho!” Upon returning to the US, I attended an eight-week filmmaking workshop at the New York Film Academy where she was immediately hooked on the process and potential of filmmaking as a storytelling medium. Before entering the DFP, I worked with the Campaign for Southern Equality and worked on six videos about the organization’s work fighting for full equality for same-sex couples under federal law. Having one of the videos being viewed by more than a million people (via youtube, MSNBC, and multiple blogs), this experience highlighted for me the power of video and film in sharing humanizing stories, and potentially making a positive impact.

dianeDiane Hodson
Prior to joining the DFP, I worked as an educator for eight years at a small, public school in Brooklyn, NY. Prior to teaching high school world history, I received my BA in individualized study from New York University and my MA in education from Long Island University. After graduation, I spent summers studying and traveling as a beneficiary of numerous National Endowment for the Humanities grants and a Fulbright-Hayes grant. Over the years, I repeatedly turned to documentary when in need of a compelling, visual storytelling medium to engage and educate young people. My goal is to produce informed documentaries that will similarly engage the general public about systemic issues plaguing urban youth, such as the pressing need for both education and prison reform. In addition, I intend to continue working to affect change within these broken systems by empowering students and ex-offenders to craft their own narratives through the medium of documentary film.

joeJoe Jowers
The first documentary I can remember watching is Ken Burns’ The Civil War. One notable technique, now dubbed “The Ken Burns Effect,” drew my attention to the power of juxtaposition – still photographs and voiced-over historical quotes. That early encounter moved me from my first love, still photography, towards filmmaking. It has been a long road since then, however, which has included stops at Rochester Institute of Photography, Clark Atlanta University (where I received my undergraduate degree in communications), Georgia State University, and years of freelance work. My professional work as a cameraman has included a half dozen16 and 35-mm short films and music videos, three dramatic features, and broadcast work for various news magazines. The most important documentary films I worked on have taken me to the Midwest, Haiti, Egypt, and most recently, the Republic of Panama, where I have been shooting a documentary on the informal economy. My current research interests revolve around the micro level effects of global economic processes and the importance of art as a spiritual and political force.

taniaTania Kharchenko
I graduated in 2006 from Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University with an MA in Ukrainian philology and folklore. I got my first job when I was nearly sixteen on a newly created radio station and since then I have had more than 11 years of professional experience working for a daily newspaper, a center of political research, television stations, and news magazines. I first realized that I wanted to become a documentary filmmaker three years ago. I believe that documentary is a great way to capture stories about people in time. My goal is to learn the secrets of this craft and to find her own storytelling style then to make popular science films.

jasmineJasmine Luoma
I graduated from the University of Florida in 2010 where I received a degree in photojournalism with a minor in Spanish language. During college, I interned and worked for several newspapers in addition to studying abroad in Argentina and Germany. For the two years prior to entering the DFP, I taught English to elementary and high school students in Ibiza and Catalunya, Spain. These experiences sparked my love for storytelling and connected me to people who are passionate about their beliefs. I am  interested in making socially-conscious documentaries where I can immerse myself in the lives of my subjects and explore issues that may seem common on the surface but yield an unexpected, deeper reality. My goal is to make visually stimulating films that inspire both individual thought and community discussion.

walidahWalidah Muhammad
I was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona in a close-knit community on the southern side of town. South Phoenix was rich in diverse groups of people and provided a wonderful opportunity to truly learn the meaning of “tenacity of spirit.” I attended the University of Arizona where I earned a Bachelor and Master of Science degree in nursing. Due to her love for women’s health, I continued on and received a nurse midwifery degree from Frontier Nursing University in 2004. In my career as a nurse midwife, I have “caught” hundreds of babies, witnessing the joy of birth, and I have also grieved with mothers who lost their babies too soon. It is through these experiences that I have learned about the health disparities that exist within the United States. I have also learned that I love being able to “capture the story” and express it through a creative medium such as photography or writing. I plan to utilize these skills to capture the untold stories of women as they navigate the health care system and other major transitions of life. It is my hope that through film, I will inspire change and promote action by bringing attention to issues within the social system that have an impact on women’s health and, ultimately, on the health of our community.

merrittMerritt Peele
I earned my undergraduate degree in history from Davidson College in 2009. I continued to pursue my interest in academic history at the University of Sheffield in England. In 2011, my was awarded a MA in historical research; my dissertation focused on early efforts among American peace activists to coordinate national protest against the Vietnam War. While at Sheffield, I took a course on public history that emphasized the translation of academic history into formats more accessible to the general public. I aspire to marry my training as a historian with training as a documentarian to create works that not only educate but also demonstrate the rigor of thought demanded by scholarship.

safyahSafyah Zafar Usmani
I earned an undergraduate degree in media science from SZABIST with a Production Major. My goal is to become a highly skilled, unprejudiced, and empathetic documentarian. My inclination toward documentary stems from the fact that story-telling is my passion and real-life characters are my inspiration – documentary filmmaking allows her to combine both. In the past, I have worked with local and international filmmakers to make films on diverse subjects, including young Pakistani heroes, the lineage of rural artifacts, villagers living lives of ancient era in clay houses without water or electricity, and South Asian forms of Classical Dance. I believe in the beauty of imperfection and that a mesh of talent and blemish in people makes life interesting and stories worth telling. I intend to utilize my filmmaking skills on social as well as cultural fronts in order to make sure that injustice is exposed and diversity is celebrated.

sarahSarah Stockton-Tekeste
Before joining the DFP, I graduated from Vanderbilt University with a BA in political science and earth and environmental Science. At Vanderbilt, I realized my passion for the environment and women’s and gender studies. I plan to produce films that reexamine gender norms and traditional beliefs while serving an educational purpose.