Toronto Film School Online student Balahan Gürel is set to mark the world premiere of his first-ever short film next month at a quartet of international film festivals in the U.S. and Spain.
“When I was making the film, I said if it can make an international film premiere outside of Turkey, especially in the States, that would be very cool, because the competition is very fierce,” said Gürel, 23, who wrote, directed and produced the film.
“We’re so happy. We’re in three festivals now, and hopefully it will continue like that.”
Shot in Instanbul last July, Gürel characterized Love, Death and Tomatoes as a “warm and tender” dark comedy that tells the story of a dying man (played by Kerem Arslanoğlu) and his wife (played by Çiğdem Aydın Yıldız), who decide to die by suicide together in a diner.
“It’s a film about absolute love, which is a topic that I really wanted to dive into,” he said, noting he drew inspiration for his Turkish language short from the likes of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, and the stage play plot from Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman.
“The man learns that day that he’s certainly going to die, and his wife says, ‘Let’s do this together. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to live without you.’”
A film buff born into a family of stage performers, Gürel said he originally studied theatre in both Turkey and the Czech Republic, before opting to leave the “family business” to pursue his true passion for screenwriting and directing.
“Even when I was studying theatre, I watched at least three films a day. Film was always there, but because all my family was making theatre, I thought I should do that, as well,” he said.
“When I discovered that I should pursue films and decided to be a writer/director, I looked up some possible destinations for my studies. I saw Toronto Film School’s online program and I thought it was amazing.”
Keen to pursue a career writing feature films, Gürel lauded Blain Watters – who designed, created and currently teaches Toronto Film School’s online stream of Feature Writing courses – as the “amazing” instructor who helped guide him in the writing of Love, Death and Tomatoes.
“He’s always available, always helpful. I can’t say enough about Toronto Film School. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” he said. “I wanted to take the best education I could, and you can’t find that in Instanbul or Turkey – you can’t match it.”
Now that he’s in his seventh term of Toronto Film School’s Online Writing program, Gürel is keeping busy balancing his studies with plans to begin filming his next short, The Big Flight – a musical drama about a jazz singer and a fashion photographer who fall in love – sometime in the near future.
He’s also making tentative plans to attend the world premiere screening of Love, Death and Tomatoes – either online or in-person, depending on the unfolding situation with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m looking forward to meeting with the audiences and taking part in the festivals’ Q&As,” he said. “It’s going to be just amazing.”