Thomas Debass


Thomas Debass is the founder and curator of SmartPhilm.  He is an economist, public servant, and adjunct professor at George Washington University School of Business. Thomas is a widely recognized innovation leader who has played a leading role in promoting the role of partnerships to solve global challenges. He regularly gives keynotes, lectures, and talks about the intersection of media, policy, business, and society.  Thomas is very passionate about the democratization of storytelling and technology.  He is a graduate of Virginia Tech in Applied Economics.  Thomas is a 2020 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal Finalist; and a recipient of the 2016 D&DA Wood Pencil Award for Innovative Use of Mobile Technology.

Milena Mikael-Debass

Co-Founder/Executive Producer

Milena Mikael-Debass is co-founder and executive producer of SmartPhilm Fest.  She is a New York-based producer with a background in broadcast television, video production and digital video strategy. From producing for Al Jazeera’s The Stream to VICE News, she is passionate about the constantly evolving landscape of web video. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in Comparative Politics from the University of Virginia and a graduate degree in Global Communication from George Washington University. In her spare time, Milena pursues her love of photography.

Bem Yemesgen

Co-Founder/Creative Director

Bemnet “Bem” Yemesgen is co-founder and creative director of SmartPhilm Fest.  In his professional capacity, Bem is Head of Global Creative Strategy and Brand Identity at Twitter.  Prior to that, He served as Creative Director at Discord.  He has had the privilege of working for brands such as Adidas, Girl Effect (Nike Foundation), and USA Today.  He is very passionate about inspiring teams, crafting compelling content, and creating memorable experiences.  His background is in design and creative development, but his real passion is in photography and film.

Zelalem Woldemariam

Managing Partner

Zelalem Woldemariam is an award-winning filmmaker and founder, CEO, and Chief Creative Director of Zeleman, a full-service communications, advertising and production agency delivering impactful marketing campaigns that drive sustainable growth. Being a Creative Entrepreneur, Filmmaker & Storyteller himself, Zelalem has created a vision for the success of Zeleman; and has motivated, guided and empowered a team of passionate and creative youth towards that success. Zelalem has pursued his passion of filmmaking yet to another horizon – promoting and celebrating films shot exclusively with smartphones and other mobile devices. He is a Managing Partner of SmartPhilm, which provides a platform to the global artistic and storytelling community to democratize the filmmaking industry by producing their own stories in the most accessible way using their smartphone.

Larry Engel

Strategic Advisor

Larry Engel serves as strategic advisor and trainer for SmartPhilm Fest.  An Emmy® award-winning filmmaker entering his fourth decade with work spanning the globe, Larry Engel has worked on more than 250 documentary projects for television and cable. He is an associate professor at American University’s Film and Media Arts division in the School of Communication, an associate director of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking, and filmmaker-in-residence at the Investigative Reporting Workshop.

In pursuit of environmental, wildlife and adventure stories, Engel has flown into hurricanes, been chased by tornadoes, and dropped into ice caves. He’s fled wildfires, gotten lost in jungles, and spent three years traveling the globe to come face to face with a lot of mummies.A three-part series that he directed and shot, “The Human Spark” hosted by Alan Alda premiered on PBS nationally and recently won a prestigious AAAS-Kavli Science Journalism Award for In-Depth Journalism. He currently producing a long-form documentary called “Harvest Home: A Refuge for Wounded Warriors” that focuses on need for housing to help veterans who suffer from TBI and PTSD transition back into society.