Leylak: Gritty NY Frontliners film debuts at Tribeca

(Leylak premieres today at Tribeca Film Fest)

A New York story about the unwavering strength of an immigrant in a pandemic was exactly the kind of important, gritty story creative duo, Scott Aharoni and Dennis Latos were looking to tell at all costs. Leylak tells a story of a Turkish gravedigger living in Queens, as he is unable to face the shattering truths of the pandemic, and risks losing the dearest connection left in his life. 

This film shares the struggles that frontline workers endured at the height of the pandemic. This live-action short film has been selected for world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

As New Yorkers, the duo has what Aharoni describes, “a desire to tell stories with New York grit about real people, all the many different kinds of people the melting pot that is New York is made up of,  going through real-life challenges.”

Just three days after the New York Times prepared a powerful front-page marking a somber and surreal milestone of 100,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States, the directors were sent the first draft of Leylak. In typical New York fashion and pace, the film was written in a matter of weeks by Mustafa Kaymakand had an approximate 60-day incubation period before being filmed just a matter of days in July of 2020. Watch the trailer below:

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Behind The Scenes

Once production began, the weight of making a movie about a virus that was actively affecting New York created a nerve-wracking intensity on set. As the lead character suffering loss around the pandemic is in the trenches digging graves, the filmmakers quite literally got in the trenches themselves— in true independent film style— as they helped dig 61 graves for production.

Aharoni vividly recalled the scene, “it was a hot, humid New York summer with a tense atmosphere for fear of the virus and we were essentially working construction helping digging the holes in the ground for our film, because we were willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.”

The reason for this is due to the actual lives lost from COVID-19 no cemeteries were available to film and only be used for essential services. The filmmakers had to overcome the very real adversity of the pandemic to tell a pandemic story.  They expressed that, “making a film and a pandemic reminded us of our utter desire to make movies and that it prevails all the trials and challenges because of how much we love it.”

The collaborators have roots that date back to boyhood; both from Long Island New York they had paralleled paths centering around a passion for film since junior high school, but it wasn’t until the end of their college experiences that these kindred directors came together to form a creative alliance.

Latos explained that they both had, “a very similar driven energy that naturally allows a creative synergy that has  proven to effectively collaborate.”

With their creative collaboration resulting in Leylak’s premiere at Tribeca Film Festival in June, the potency of the alliance between these determined, New York filmmakers is very clear. 

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.  

Megan Penn reports on the indie film market and anything that empowers women and underrepresented groups.