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Meet The Team


Mariela Gomez de Ell

Associate Board Member

Mariela Gomez de Ell, originally from Morelia Michoacan, worked from a very young age in children's theater at the Casa de la Cultura and later joined the National Theater Company. Her career in journalism began at the age of 14 when she was a pioneer of the Michoacan radio and television system later she worked as a news presenter for Telemundo in Tucson and Phoenix later a news producer for Univision manager of the television channel salam TV, manager General of Latina TV Network, she is Ceo of dreamline creative media entre radio Show conéctate con la noticia

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Rene Lopez

Board Member

Councilmember René Lopez has lived and worked in Chandler for more than seven years. He began his first term on the Chandler City Council in 2015. He is a third generation Arizona native, born and raised in the East Valley. René graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in Nuclear Engineering, with a minor in Direct Energy Conversion.  René is also a third generation U.S. Navy seaman. René has an extensive career in Project Management, with more than 14 years of experience working in telecommunications, energy, and currently in information technology. 


Christine Wenger

Board Member

Christine Wenger is an Arizona Native born in Flagstaff.  She has a love and passion for helping people and animals alike.  Has a Bachelor of Science majoring in Animal Science from CSU with a concentration in large animals.  Was a judge with Block and Bridal and judged many state fairs in the South West. Now, the Sales Manager for Nations Lending in which she helps people get into their dream home.  She has been in the mortgage industry for 20 years and truly enjoys what she does. Everyone matters. She is also very active Ambassador for the Chandler Chamber of Commerce and Director of the Ahwatukee Chapter of Power Networking Team. 


Meredith Palandech

Festival Coordinator

Meredith Palandech was born and raised in Salem, Oregon, where her journey into the world of arts began at an early age by participating in Children's Educational Theatre. In 2009, she moved to Arizona to study Theatre at Arizona State University, graduating in 2013. In 2014, Meredith moved to Los Angeles, California to study makeup at Cinema Makeup School, where she excelled and completed the Master Makeup Program.  This led her to working on an array of projects, including photo shoots, music videos, and feature films. In 2016, Meredith returned to Arizona, where she continues her passion for film and theatre arts by acting, makeup artistry, and assisting on short films. 

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Christine Hotchkiss

Volunteer Coordinator

Christine Hotchkiss moved to Chandler, Arizona in 2018. She is an advocate and active volunteer with For Our City Chandler. In 2018 having her first exposure to the film festival industry, she found a passion and became involved with the Chandler International Film Festival in 2019 doing film Q&A with movie creatures, talent, and directors. Because of Christine’s personal journey and desire to connect community personally and professionally she founded and is the host of Stories of Hope, a non-profit organization and
video/ audio podcast real life storytelling show found on YouTube, Spotify, TikTok, Instagram,
and other audible platforms. Christine found her life’s purpose through the pain of tragedy.
The love and light Christine shares in her immediate community is one that comes from the heartbreak of losing her 17-year-old daughter Nicole in a family accident on New Year’s Day 2007. Having turned her pain into power she found a way that allows others to heal, connect, be inspired, give, and receive Hope through real life stories from all over. In 2022 she portrayed herself in the award-winning movie Fortis Femina, directed by Mitesh Patel, a real-life storytelling movie about 7 women on a journey of healing and hope.


Martha Llamas

Associate Board Member

Martha purchased a Jani-King, commercial cleaning franchise in 2002. Today, her company is recognized as one of the most successful in Jani-King’s history, performing in the top 5% for annual revenue, in a field of over 9500 Jani-King franchises in the United States. She has earned the esteemed, “Presidents Club Award” for generating over 1 million dollars in business, every year since 2003, as well as a host of accolades for her contributions to the community. She currently employs over 70 people and her story has been featured on international television shows, in newspapers and magazines, on radio shows and podcasts. In 2021 Martha was presented with the NRSC Champion for Freedom Award. This award is presented to conservative leaders who have worked tirelessly to create good jobs and protect the values that make our country great.

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John Trejo

Associate Board Member

John Trejo is an Arizona native with deep family roots dating back to the 1800’s. As pioneers to the great state of Arizona his family has become a bench marker in history for growth and prosperity to those who wished of a better life. His family helped establish some of the earlier towns in the Cochise County area as well as bringing communities into the state from Mexico. As pioneers his family always gave more to the people of this state in their time of need especially during the depression years. This is one of the reasons John gives so much of his time because he understands the benefit of giving. John’s passion to help other continues to this day as the Vice President and board member with Resurrection Street Ministry’s (RSM) and Stuff Thrift store in Mesa Arizona. RSM is a non-profit that provides food to the elderly community, disabled veterans, and many more in need of food assistance
throughout Mesa and surrounding areas. John is also a local business owner in Tempe Arizona operating Bright Brothers Estate Sales which he operates with the help of his family.


Natalie Bowers

Associate Board Member

Natalie Bowers was born and raised in SoCal and became an Arizona resident in 2000. With an appreciation for people and their stories; movies and art fuel her love of storytelling. As Vice President and Commercial Banker for BMO bank, Natalie is a steward of strategic partnerships for medium-large commercial clients; organizations; and nonprofits. She promotes servant leadership and financial awareness within her community. Mid-career Natalie earned an AA in Communications and Business from Mesa Community College and is currently studying Corporate Accounting at Arizona State University. Married to husband Joe since 2006, they enjoy family time with adult daughter Aleah, also a banker, and teen son, JJ, who competes as a pro-amateur in Mixed Martial Arts, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and wrestling. Their love of travel stems from JJ’s competitions; most recently representing the U.S. in the Youth Intl. Mixed Martial Arts Federation competition in Rome (2019) and Abu Dhabi (2022).


Mitesh Patel

President/Festival Director

Mitesh Patel graduated from S.P University (India) with a Bachelor in Fine Arts (Applied Arts) in 1997, with the highest distinction of  earning the Best Design Award. In 2008, Patel made his first low budget feature film "The man in the maze" which received 12 awards from various film festivals and theatrical distribution. It wasn’t long before Patel started acquiring film rights for theatrical re-release in North America. One of these films, "Delhi Safari", was shortlisted in the Oscar race of 2012. Patel has directed two feature films and has produced/distributed over 20 feature films in the past 15 years, balancing his time between Hollywood and Bollywood. Patel is also a part of PGA, the Producers Guild of America. Today, he plans to keep creating art by producing one film every year.

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Betty Ramirez

Vice President

Betty Ramirez, originally from Veracruz, Mexico, has been a Chandler, Arizona resident since 2004. Betty is the vice president of the CIFF and directed the documentary "COVID-19 vs. Arizona: Our Stories" in 2020. In the same year, she founded Fortis Femina LLC, a for-profit venture uniting local women to address community challenges. In 2022, Betty collaborated with CIFF President Mitesh Patel on a feature film based on Fortis Femina members' true stories, set to release in Spring 2023. Betty is actively involved in the City of Chandler, serving on the U.S. Census committee, partnering with the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Division, and contributing to civic programs like the Citizens Police Academy and CIVIC. 


Mark Stewart

Board Member

Councilmember Mark Stewart has been a resident of Chandler since 2001 and began his first term on the City Council in January 2017. He has spent more than 20 years with Fortune50 organizations and now owns a marketing and brand company, Concept2Completion. As a serial entrepreneur, he is involved with two additional startup companies as a founding partner. He works to foster a community that embraces inclusion, innovation and spirit on entrepreneurial development. Councilmember Stewart has a Bachelor of Science degree from Missouri State University. Within the community, he volunteers and supports local non-profits and maintains an active faith.


Dave Waltzer


Dave Waltzer was born in Wakefield, MA(Near Boston) in 1974 to Roman Catholic parents.  He comes from a hard working family whose Dad was Mailman and Mom was a homemaker. They divorced when he was 14 and that's when he started working and helping to raise his younger brother and sister along with attending High School.  He was accepted and started attending Babson College in Wellesley, MA after High School. He wanted to be an International Business & Marketing major but was not disciplined enough at that point to complete college. In 1994 he decided to join the United States Air Force. He served 4 1/2 years and was stationed in such exotic places as Misssissppi, Texas, & South Korea where he scheduled and dispatched flights as well as maintained flight records. He was Honorably discharged in 1998.

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