I appreciate the well-thought-out setting of this short film and how the actors portray their roles. This film is relatable as if it could be about my family or yours. The camera captures expressions and dialogue between the characters that feel familiar, a snippet of one family’s drama. Unfolding in Leylak, humans, namely parents, deal with the unacknowledged idea that we are born to die. Amid a pandemic, the father Yusuf (Nadir Saribacak, Winter’s Sleep), tormented with breaking news to his daughter, struggles to decide when the right time will be. We question ourselves, how would we deal in the same situation. We chastise others, not knowing our reaction unless we have a similar experience. This film left me criticizing Yusuf, yet oblivious to how he feels. If you appreciate simple drama around an intense plot, Leylak gives you just that.
It was such a pleasure to speak with Scott Aharoni, one of the directors of LEYLAK, and Mustafa Kaymak, the writer and co-producer. I had a lot of questions and comments swirling in my head, and I hoped by the end of the interview I had covered most of what I set out to uncover. The ease with which the conversation flowed was endearing, and my final sentiment was a wave of inspiration. How did I know that speaking with those who have reached their achievements would have such contagious energy?
I learned that Scott’s filmmaking journey began back in middle school, where his school had a studio with live television and radio. He was able to host, and this nurtured his fascination with film. He immediately enrolled in filmmaking courses. It was then he embraced the “magic” of movie-making. His camcorder became his new appendage, and when his teacher let him be the director of the school storyboards, he began adding his shots. Look at him now, making films and such!
I then asked about roadblocks, and Scott said that rejections appear to be a roadblock, but they help you learn how to “navigate.” His thoughts were if one door closes, find another one and “crash it down.” I couldn’t have been more inspired by those words as a “creative” myself. Another vital mention was to “invest in yourself.” Scott hustled in every way taking side jobs to do this. This idea hit home because it is something we tend to consider as unimportant or selfish but investing in yourself, as advised by Scott, is necessary to success.
As if part of a natural leeway into topics and ideas Mustafa, (Writer and co-producer and the award-winning writer and producer of Green, winner of the 2019 short film U.S. Jury Award at Sundance Film Festival) was able to join the call. I needed to know why he decided on this topic, and as a fellow writer, I had my suspicions. I assumed a unique event inspired him, and Mustafa confirmed my assumption. He lost his dad at nine years old to multiple sclerosis. The experience affected him for the rest of his life and, of course, changed him. In choosing to write about our current world situation, he expressed that Leylak was “our reaction to what was happening” Leylak tells how we as humans feel during this time and how this little girl’s first
experience with death plays out. Mustafa conveyed that most people haven’t dealt with such widespread death in their lifetime. Scott chimed in how the film was such a “powerful medium” and “artists have a voice.” Message sent was how I felt after viewing Leylak. I was amazed by how visually appealing it was and how it carried such a powerful message about our choices when we are in the midst of grief.
Next question I posed, revolved around role models. Scott named a couple of people he looked up to, including Alfred Hitchcock and Bob Iger, the former CEO of the Walt Disney Company. He admires Iger’s business sense and how he was able to balance his love with the business. Scott agrees that this is key, and he strives to emulate just that ethic. He embraces how powerful it is when creatives come together; It creates “magic.”
“Film allows you to question reality and tap into emotions,” says Scott, and combined with storytelling, you can witness the “power of cinema on people.”
Mustafa comes from the writer’s perspective; almost anything can be inspirational. Personally, Mustafa gets inspired by instrumental music, articles, news, current events, real-life, and just being aware. I can relate to Mustafa; my life disclaimer is anything you say or do most likely will be used in a book with a twist so, mind yourself!
On to upcoming projects, I am excited to hear that Scott and Mustafa will be turning “Green” the winner of the 2019 short film U.S. Jury Award at Sundance Film Festival into a feature film. (insert applause here!) I’ve watched Green, and of course, it left me wanting more with the range of emotions it brought forth. This project will be something worth looking out for. We will hear the start of a new production company in the works, and the excitement continues with these amazing creatives. Another surprise was “Walk,” a story in the making that includes a nine-year-old immigrant and the journey in search of her mother. Drama for sure.
My list of must-knows included greatest achievements. My heart rate quickened when I anticipated their response. A little-known fact about like-minded creatives is that our passion oozes when we talk about our crafts, achievements, and future ideas. Their answers were not disappointing. Scott says “creating worlds” is one of his, along with collaborations. The worlds of film that he brings to life in partnership with other creatives and writers. He also expressed how he thrives off the combination of the business and creative end, an intelligent thought process for sure. Mustafa’s greatest achievement was his continued “ability to dream and try and bring it to reality” With a sigh, it was all clear after his answer. There is no story without a dream, there is no communication without a plan, and there is no bringing artistry to life without impressive men like Scott and Mustafa. This topic, for me, was the most inspiring of all. There was passion behind their answers, and I’m all about passion. It speaks to me.
The best advice for upcoming filmmakers and storytellers these two men offered was not to give up and keep dreaming. Scott expresses the sentiment that it’s a “ tough journey,” He believes that his strategic approach combining business and artistic creativity is the most crucial edge up and comings can gain. “Focus on the big dream and go after it.” On that note, I want to say I
hung up the phone re-inspired by hearing the passion in their voices and the resolve both carried with their craft.
I’m looking forward to their upcoming achievements and would love to hear all about them! My favorite part of Leylak was when the sister stepped in and insisted the father tell his daughter the truth. I felt that was needed and captured the emotional weight of grief any one of us may experience in our own families in our lifetimes.
Can’t wait to see where they go from here on their filmmaking/writing journey. 😀 I’m enclosing a big virtual hug and polite pat to both men for their time and energy.
Directors: Scott Aharoni and Dennis Latos
Writer: Mustafa Kaymak
Cinematographer: Laura Valladao
Starring: Nadir Saribacak, Isabella Haddock, and Gamze Ceylan
LEYLAK world premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival where it won the Special Jury Prize. Leylak also won the Best International Short Film award at Galway Film Fleadh, the Flickers’ Jury Award, Grand Prize at Rhode Island International Film Festival, the Best International Actor award at Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia, the Director’s Choice Award at the Woods Hole Film Festival and the Kathryn Tucker Windham Storyteller Award at Sidewalk Film Festival.