‘Leylak’ by Alumni Wins Special Jury Mention at Tribeca Film Festival 2021

BY Felix van Kann, June 22, 2021

Still from Leylak, image courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Leylak, written and produced by Mustafa Kaymak '14, associate produced by Mark Castillo '18, and executive produced by Sola Fasehun '15, was named the winner of the 2021 Special Jury Mention Award in the shorts category of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. 


In an exclusive interview with Latino Review Media (LRM) Online, Scott Aharoni and Dennis Latos, the directing duo behind Leylak, spoke a bit about collaborating with Kaymak: “We had met our writer Mustafa Kaymak a couple of months before the [pandemic] lockdown in New York. We wanted to do a project with him, but we weren’t sure what that project would be—nothing was really clicking. But then the pandemic started. The New York lockdown began. We reached out to Mustafa and said, ‘Hey, maybe this is something that can spark our interest...maybe we can figure out a film that takes place during the pandemic, but is not necessarily about the pandemic’...We wanted to create a story that anyone could relate to.”


Kaymak was also key in bringing actor Nadir Saribacak to the project. Kaymak met Saribacak, who plays Yusuf Çelik in the short, while at Sundance. As the directing duo shared in their LRM Online interview, Kaymak actually wrote Leylak with Saribacak in mind for the leading role.


In addition, Queen of Glory, which was produced by alumnus Jamund Washington ‘10 and edited by Directing student Cooper Troxell, was awarded the honor of Best New Narrative Director. The film was written, directed, and also stars Nana Mensah. Mensah  is an award-winning Ghanaian-American actor, writer, and director. She stars opposite Sandra Oh in The Chair, which is currently streaming on Netflix. Other roles include Netflix’s BONDiNG and NBC’s New Amsterdam.

“At its core, Mensah’s tightly conceived, witty and compassionate dark comedy is a love letter to children of Ghanaian immigrants and to the Bronx, the borough in which she and her protagonist grew up,” writes Lovia Gyarkye in a review for The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s a clear-eyed film of intimate, culturally specific moments—from the adowa funeral dancer swaying in the opening scenes to the lengthy prayers over light soup—that delicately build a portrait of a young woman wading through grief and finding bits of herself in the process.”

A complete list of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival winners can be found here.

Original Article: May 18, 2021


Four projects by Columbia alumni are set to be presented at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival between June 9-June 20 2021. They are: The Last Out, a feature documentary co-directed and produced by Film alumnus Sami Khan '09, which runs as part of the 2020 Spotlight Selection highlighting films from last year’s canceled edition of the festival, Berstein’s Wall, directed by Writing alumnus Douglas Tirola '92, which partakes in the Spotlight Documentary section, and Leylak, written and produced by Mustafa Kaymak '14, associate produced by Mark Castillo '18, and executive produced by Sola Fasehun '15, playing in the shorts section. In addition, Earth Eclipsed, a new sci-fi audio series for the podcast medium for which Theatre alumnus Christian T. Chan '10 plays one of the protagonists, is set to have its world premiere in the Tribeca Podcast selection. 


The Last Out is an affecting story of raw talent, passion and naivete that follows three Cuban baseball players with Major League dreams as they embark on radically different paths when those dreams don’t pan out. It was awarded a Special Jury Mention for Best New Documentary Director in the Documentary Competition category of the canceled festival last year and returns this year to finally show on the big screen.


Sami Khan is a biracial Muslim filmmaker based in New York City. His work has screened at leading festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival and the Mumbai Film Festival. In addition to The Last Out, Khan also worked on a short documentary for Al Jazeera English with Smriti Mundhra, titled St. Louis Superman

Still from The Last Out, image courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Bernstein’s Wall tells the story of Leonard Bernstein and his journey to answer the question: What is the role of the artist in the fight to create social change? Told in Bernstein’s own voice, we see an artist struggling to find balance between his career and personal life while teaching the idea of bringing people together.


Douglas Tirola is an award-winning director and producer whose work premiered at Sundance, Berlinale, Tribeca, and SXSW. His films include Bloodroot, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, Hey Bartender, and An Omar Broadway Film. He also produced the critically acclaimed films Bisbee ’17, and Making the Boys.

Still from Bernstein's Wall, image courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Leylak takes place in present-day Queens, when a Turkish gravedigger (Nadir Saribacak) is unable to face a shattering truth, he risks losing the dearest connection left in his life.


Mustafa Kaymak was born in Ankara Turkey. He is the producer and the co-writer of the Sundance award winning short movie, Green. He received his BA in Journalism from Ankara University, Turkey and holds two MFA degrees one in Playwriting and another in Creative Film Producing both from the Columbia University.


Sola Fasehun, who studied Creative Producing at Columbia, previously worked under Academy Award winning producer Michael Philips (Taxi DriverThe Sting), has her own independent film company Fasehun Films, and has partnered with Jaime King (Sin CityPearl Harbor) to form the production company Hooligan Dreamers. She is also one of the producers of Slayers, soon to be released, and starring Abigail Breslin, Thomas Jane, and Malin Akerman.


Earth Eclipsed follows a neuroscientist on the brink of a galaxy-changing discovery that will save millions of lives who has her work interrupted when she’s kidnapped by a renegade miner. Set in the distant future, this immersive audio series explores what it means to live in a utopian society and the great lengths one must go to preserve humanity.

Christian T. Chan, who studied Acting at Columbia, is an actor known for his work on Resident Evil 2 (2019), Dynasty Warriors 9 (2018) and Something's Different About Felix Weathers (2016).