To celebrate AAPI Heritage Month, Camera Ambassador and Subtitle are collaborating for a series of blog posts conducted by Subtitle's Alex Wen to highlight artists in Chicago making films, television, and other video work! We kick things off with Maria Brenda, Amber Eswani, and Christopher Rejano. You can find the first edition here too.

(The following interviews have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.)


Maria Brenda

AW: Tell us a bit about yourself!

MB: I am a film director, producer, writer, actor, and mental health awareness advocacy. I am the founder of Zatori Films, an emerging film production company based in Chicago, Illinois. My team consists of a diverse group of filmmakers. Most of us are minority female professionals. I love creating one-of-a-kind projects in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror genres.

AW: What has been your most rewarding project that you’ve been a part of?

MB: All the projects I’ve created are rewarding, but MAYA the Sacrifice is my pride and joy. [It’s] the first feature film I wrote, which is loosely based on my life story in a fantasy world. It is a film dedicated to mental health awareness, a story of a mother that will go above and beyond to protect her daughter. It is a story of love, determination, bravery, courage, strength and triumph.

AW:What are some of your favorite directors and/or films?

MB: I have a handful of favorite movies and TV shows, but my all-time favorite is the Wonder Woman series. I grew up watching Linda Carter portraying the role and I said to myself, “I want to be just like her when I grow up.” At a young age, I was in awe of her powers and braveness to defeat bad people. It was cool and exciting to see a woman superhero.

I’m always fascinated with fantasy and sci-fi films that were done right. I love it, like escaping my reality for a moment. There’s always that kid in all of us– believing that there’s a world out there that we can escape to, whether it’s a superhero universe or time traveling to somewhere far into the future and be whoever we want to be that we can’t in real life. I love Stephen Spielberg’s mind. He created something that makes us all wonder about the world and our future.

AW: What do you like to do in your free time? Other hobbies?

MB: I love traveling and writing. I wanted to travel around the world and learn about each culture. I think every culture is unique and fascinating. Writing is my escape from reality where I can create a world different from ours. It’s pretty cool and exciting. I get to visualize, create and put it on a big screen for others to escape and enjoy.

AW: Anything else you would like to tell us?

MB: Filmmaking has been my ultimate dream and I’m making it a reality. I am very proud of all my projects and my team. All the accolades and many awards that we won in some of the most prestigious film festivals around the world is overwhelming. I am truly honored for all the accomplishments. With my Zatori Films team/family on my side, I know that we will conquer anything and I am forever grateful for them. Please check our website for more information and upcoming projects:

I am also the founder of No Small Potatoes Foundation. The goal of the non-profit is to provide aid to mental health communities everywhere. We also accept donations for our cause and FEED the Homeless Project:


Amber Eswani

AW: Tell us a bit about yourself!

AE: In the creative regard, first and foremost I am a multidisciplinary artist, I like to write poetry and stories, I photograph, I film, I plan events, I like playing the guitar and ukulele for fun– making a song every now and then.

For work, I am an Office Production Assistant for Chicago Fire. I am also a part of two organizations– 3AM Thoughts Productions, an all female run production company in Chicago, as a Board Member and The Ismaili Artists Alliance, a networking and professional development resource for Ismaili Muslims pursuing the Arts as a career, as a Content Developer.

I like creating work and content that evokes something in a person's mind to see the world in a different perspective than they did before. There's often healing work I involve in my art—as well as double meanings, there's what you see on the surface level, and then there is the message you get after re-reading or watching the project again. I make art that speaks to me that highlights South Asian American women's stories, hoping it resonates with people on similar journeys in time and involves BIPOC communities in the making.

AW: How has the pandemic affected your work?

AE: Surprisingly, I've been working through this whole pandemic. I was doing streaming work as a Series Producer on a project for Social Works, a series of workshops to raise money for a graduation celebration for the kids of Chicago. I continued to explore the online event world with another company, and then did another job for the Allied Media Conference as a Production Coordinator. I really got a feel for the online scene, doing zoom tech checks, scheduling people, content, prepping shows, all from home, it was really interesting.

Then I started getting calls back to do production in person. I was really worried about getting infected, what did that even look like, what precautions would people take? I wanted to learn what that would look like before I returned long-term to production. I took a Covid Health & Safety Office Production Position, on the first show back in production for Fargo Season 4 in August 2020 to see what that would look like. We were the guinea pigs for the city, everything we did would reflect on how productions would move forward. It went well and I learned a lot and felt alright continuing work, but still precautious. I returned to work on Chicago Fire Season 9 in September 2020 as an office PA and I am working there at the moment. There's definitely been a lot of ups and downs, but tension has eased as the vaccine is more accessible than before, and more people are getting vaccinated.

AW: What do you like best about the video form?

AE: What I like best about the video form is the emotions you can evoke with the piling of clips, sounds, movements, words, tone, lighting, all of it; it replicates your point of view on life, how you see the world, and the message you want to get across or educate people on. You are giving life to a mosaic of thoughts and emotions that other people can clearly see, digest and reflect on.

AW: What are some of your favorite directors and/or films?

AE: One of my favorite directors is Mamoru Hosoda, who made Mirai and Wolf Children which are both animated films that take an everyday family life and make it fantastical, emotional, full of life, color, nature and adventure. Another favorite film of mine is Mr. Nobody which is directed by Jaco Van Dormael. The story takes you through all different realities the main character lived through based on the decisions he has made, like deciding to live with his mom or dad, which woman he pursues, etc. It jumps through time and is very non-linear but all comes together in the end. I like films that are colorful, mystical, make us question our existence, what is really important in life, and how we go about living our lives.

AW: Anything else you would like to tell us?

AE: A short film I wrote, Nani Eshe's Antiques, got into the Semifinal round for The Epiphany Project Competition with Mass Epiphany Studios. Also, you can watch Fuzzy Legs here, if you have not already seen it. To see my work check out, and stay up to date with me on Instagram: @amberoonmoon, where I've released some photo projects and Honeyed Words, the poetry video I mentioned earlier.

Christopher Rejano

AW: Tell us a bit about yourself!

CR: My name is Christopher Rejano and I am a Cinematographer. I shoot commercials and narrative feature films. A successful creation to me starts with the collaboration between myself and the director. I like the process of translating ideas, finding shared concepts or similar tastes and then combining it all together in the name of visual storytelling via the mechanics of the camera and lens.

AW: What’s your favorite music video? Why?

CR: Great question! I would say it is an older music video: George Michael - Freedom! ‘90 directed by David Fincher, the first music video I remember where I really clung to the cinematography of a music video. Everything from the lighting, the styling, and the camera movement felt like a moving editorial sprung to life from a fashion magazine. George Michael wasn’t even in the video. That’s pretty great. David Fincher’s early music videos paved the way for upping the production value and concepts of music videos to come and his influence can be seen in music videos even today.

AW: What are some of your favorite directors and/or films?

CR: Always the toughest question because I’ll say something different the next five times someone asks me. Here’s six very different films off the top of my head:

  • The Decline of Western Civilization (1981) dir. Penelope Spheeris
  • My Own Private Idaho (1991) dir. Gus Van Sant
  • The Warriors (1979) dir. Walter Hill
  • La Haine (1996) dir. Matthieu Kassovitz
  • Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) dir. Susan Seidelman
  • Do the Right Thing (1989) dir. Spike Lee

AW: What do you like to do in your free time? Other hobbies?

CR: The beauty/curse of what I do is that my time is rarely ever free. If I’m not on a job I’m either reading a script, testing some new equipment out, or researching or reading up on films or photographers. I like to stay busy and somehow I always have a project going whether it’s shooting a short film, creating a vintage xerox style photo zine in my basement or helping my daughter with her filmmaking and screenwriting endeavors.

AW: Anything else you would like to tell us?

CR: I’m starting prep for a feature film called Restless that I am shooting in early summer with director Jennifer Reeder. This is our third feature film together. Super excited for that one. Later this year I am slated to shoot a feature film called Homesick with director Jim Vendiola, also very pumped for that one. But in the meantime, I’ll continue to work on commercials and some short form films. It’s a very busy time in Chicago right now which is great for the film community. The influx of so many productions has strengthened and expanded our film workforce and there’s lots of talent to be discovered here. I hope that continues for many years to come.

Due to scheduling, we aren't able to interview every artist & collaborator that we'd like. Nevertheless, check out the following AAPI artist & some of their work:

Anh Vo, DP, on IG at @professor.vo

Daniel Kwon, Director/DP, on IG at @danielkwons

Kaymia Li, Production Design, on IG at @lkm_k & online at

Britney Wittes, Actress & Model, on IG at @britneywittes & online at

If you're interested in being included in a upcoming edition of our collaboration with Subtitle Magazine, let us know!