NEW YORK – The film Leylak, directed by Scott Aharoni and Dennis Latos, tells the story of a New Yorker facing unprecedented stress at the height of the pandemic. Filmed during the pandemic, this live action short film has been selected for the Tribeca Film Festival in New York where it will make its world premiere on June 12.
Aharoni and Latos are a directing duo based in New York. Through their production company, DUO Entertainment, they have produced a variety of ad campaigns for international brands and several award-winning films that have garnered international success. They spoke with The National Herald about the film and the upcoming world premiere at Tribeca.
Leylak is set in present day Queens, NY, as a Turkish gravedigger is unable to face a shattering truth and risks losing the dearest connection left in his life. Just three days after the New York Times’ front page marking the somber milestone of 100,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States, the directors were sent the first draft of the script for Leylak. Of those 100,000 deaths, nearly 25% were from New York, the epicenter of the crisis at that time. No cemeteries were available at the time for the film shoot, so an empty field in Windham, NY was used and 61 “graves” dug for the production.
The stunning cinematography was created by Laura Valladao, who was also the director of photography for the Oscar-nominated film My Nephew Emmett. Turkish actor Nadir Saribacak, best known for Winter’s Sleep, winner of 2014 Palme d’Or, and Sarmasik, 2015 Sundance Film Festival World Cinema Dramatic Competition nominee, makes his U.S. film debut in Leylak as Yusuf. Actress Isabella Haddock, in her film debut, plays Renk, Yusuf’s daughter.
The story was written by Mustafa Kaymak, the award-winning writer and producer of Green, the winner of 2019 short film jury award at the Sundance Film Festival, on the 61st day of the start of the New York lockdown. Leylak will be screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in June. The filmmakers noted in their press release that “this movie is dedicated to those who have lost their lives, the families who have suffered and to the essential and frontline workers who risked their lives during these times of uncertainty.”
TNH: How long did the film take from idea to realization?
Scott Aharoni: We first discussed the possibility of a film with our writer, Mustafa Kaymak, at the beginning of the lockdown in New York as the pandemic began. We wanted a film to take place during the pandemic, but wasn't about the pandemic. From there, the script was written and worked on and the preproduction process began. We began shooting the film at the end of July/beginning of August. We edited the film right after that and finalized the post process over the next two months. And now, our world premiere will be on June 12 at the 20th Annual Tribeca Film Festival!
TNH: Were you always interested in becoming filmmakers?
SA: Back when I was in 6th grade, my Middle School offered a filmmaking class for the first time ever. Already loving watching behind-the-scenes videos of major motion picture blockbuster films, I was so excited and eager to take the class. The teacher gave us all a storyboard and taught us the roles on a film set. I wanted to be the director and I asked if I could do my own shots and veer off from the storyboard given. The teacher advised me not to do that, but with some persuasion, he supported me. After shooting the small script, we went to the edit room, and he was very surprised and shared with me that he thought I had a special gift. From that moment on, I wanted to be a filmmaker and never looked back. Till' this day, Mr. Gluck and I keep in touch.
Dennis Latos: I have always been interested in becoming a filmmaker ever since I could remember. I started shooting small videos and clips off my cell phone when I was in 5th or 6th grade. In high school, my parents bought me a small handy cam camera and I went on to make many experimental shorts. It was after doing a lot of these shorts that I realized I loved the craft of storytelling and wanted to take it more seriously. As I did it more, my love for the craft grew, so did my passion and with every project I made, I became better and better.
TNH: Where in Greece is the family from originally?
DL: On the maternal side, my mother was born in Constantinople. On the paternal side, my roots are from the island of Kefalonia.
TNH: How has your family reacted to your success?
SA: My family has always told me I could be whoever I wanted to be. As long as I worked hard and smart, anything was possible. They couldn't be more proud of the success I have had thus far and are just so excited for the future ahead. In any way they could, they helped me take the steps towards my dream. My wife has helped me grow in ways I could have never imagined and has played a pivotal role in my growth not only as a director, but a producer as well.
DL: My family has been extremely supportive of all of my success from the smallest accomplishments even to the biggest ones. They have always believed in me and have always believed in my dream and have always been the crucial pillars I needed to help push me to keep going and to never give up. This industry has a lot of highs and a lot of lows but having a strong support system can really make all the difference.
TNH: What are you working on next?
SA: We are currently reviewing a few projects from a directing and producing level to see what next step makes most sense to us. We are just so excited to go on this festival circuit with Leylak and to see what new doors could open for us.
More information is available online: https://tribecafilm.com/films/leylak-2021.