Jean Michel Dissard (Director/Producer)

Building on the needs and creativity of local allies, Jean-Michel launched the I LEARN project to connect the stories in I LEARN AMERICA to youth in schools where immigration has become the norm, not the exception and to amplify the voice of the young immigrants in our schools.

Through personal storytelling and exchange of shared experiences, building on youth-led writing, photography and video activities in “receiving” and “migrating” communities around the world, Jean Michel sparks “home-grown” conversations addressing issues of immigration and education.

In New York, Florida, Missouri, Massachusetts, California, Washington DC, Maryland, France, Guatemala, youth in middle and high schools are using the project to build bridges between classmates, their schools, their communities and their new land. See:

Much more than a filmmaker, Jean Michel has become a “traveling” story-gatherer, “border crossing” educator, “immigration” librarian, “image making” curator…

With support from the Mac Arthur Foundation, Jean-Michel Dissard directed and produced I LEARN AMERICA. Prior to this documentary, Jean-Michel produced critically acclaimed films chronicling adolescent youth, including: “Raising Victor Vargas” by Peter Sollett a fiction about Latino youth in New York City — The film was selected at the Cannes Film Festival and Sundance — “Rikers High” a Showtime documentary about 3 incarcerated teenagers on NYC’s Rikers Island – The film won best New York Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival — “Ezra” a fiction about the child soldiers of Liberia — Jean-Michel was one of the writer and producer on “Down to the Bone” directed by academy award nominee Debra Granik.

Jean Michel is on the Advisory Board of Cine-Institute, the only film school in Haiti.

Originally from France, Jean-Michel migrated to United States when he was a teenager. He often jokes that the I LEARN AMERICA project is his excuse to relive and fix his high school years when he migrated from “Nowhere, France” to “Suburbia, Arizona”… From a village of 2000 to a high school of 2000 … Confusing times… Even the food got renamed… “French fries”, what’s that?

Gitte Peng (Director/Producer)

Gitte Peng directed and produced I LEARN AMERICA, which was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Documentary Film grant. Gitte is an education reform expert who served as Senior Education Policy Advisor in Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, developing and overseeing the City’s school reform policies and initiatives. She has worked at the NYC Board of Education and the National Urban League and in various advocacy and public interest roles. While at Yale Law School, she represented asylum-seekers and low-income clients. Gitte has produced documentaries for New York Public Television, directed a short about new immigrant teens in the Bronx, and edited under master filmmaker Sam Pollard. She has also joined the Board of Directors of the Internationals Network for Public Schools.


Andrew Freiband (Co-Producer/Cinematographer)

Andrew is a filmmaker, writer, artist, and teacher. He serves on the faculty of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Department of Film, Animation, and Video and has taught as well at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York. Andrew is also an active multimedia artist, creating artwork that has been exhibited around the United States and internationally. He currently lives in New York and continues to teach at RISD, work in documentary and commercial production, and in his Brooklyn studio creating new exhibition pieces. His wife Amy teaches at one of the NYC International High Schools.


Samara Levenstein (Co-Producer)

Samara is an NYC based producer and post production supervisor. Post production credits include critically-acclaimed documentaries WHY WE FIGHT (Eugene Jarecki), DAVE CHAPELLE’S BLOCK PARTY (Michel Gondry), and the recently released THE ARMSTRONG LIE (Alex Gibney); Also the upcoming HBO narrative series, THE KNICK (Steven Soderbergh).

Currently producing: RADICAL LOVE (Hillevi Loven; Sundance Documentary Grant and Producers Lab), 38 PIECES (Susan DeMenil). Collaborator at the innovative branding firm, Horton-Maroun


Alison Shurman (Editor)

Inspired by the work of the Maysles brothers, New York-based editor Alison Shurman is rooted in classic storytelling. Her feature-documentary credits include the EMMY-nominated film “Run for Your Life,” about the enigmatic founder of the NYC Marathon and the recent Hot Docs favorite “Everybody Street,” an intimate portrait of some of New York’s most iconic street photographers.


Naïm Amor (Composer)

Naïm Amor is a French-born, Tucson, Arizona-based musician and composer. He has and still records numerous albums released on several labels internationally. Naïm also composes original scores for film. In 2011 he did the score for the PBS documentary “Precious Knowledge” and in 2013 for “I Learn America.” Naïm also composes the music for a series of short films directed by Ira Chute for the website Dark Rye, produced by Whole Foods.


Dash Shaw (Animation)

Dash is a comic book writer/artist and animator. He is the author of the critically acclaimed graphic novels Bottomless Belly Button published by Fantagraphics and BodyWorld published by Pantheon Books. His latest book New School published by Fantagraphics is being released this spring. Dash worked with John Cameron Mitchell on the feature film Short Bus and on the Sigur Ros project Seraph.