Sometimes, amazing things can be the product of pure chance and timing. This is exactly the case with Daniel Lombroso’s documentary, Mountain of Servants, which documents the Syriacs, a dwindling minority in Eastern Turkey. Lombroso is a U3 Political Science major here at McGill University who grew up in Westchester County, New York.
“In high school, I sold brownies to buy my first shitty little camera,” recounted Lombroso, as he explained how he began filming in his early teens. “I loved filmmaking. I just never knew how it would transfer into a job, so I kept doing it on the side when I came to McGill.”
During his first semester at McGill, Lombroso decided to try and direct a more professional film than those of his high school shorts.
“In December of my first year at New Rez, I was like, I’m going to make my first real movie, so I put out an ad on Craigslist looking for middle-aged balding men to be in it,” he remarked between laughs.
Unfortunately, the film didn’t pan out as well as he had hoped, and that experience opened his eyes.
“That’s when I first started understanding what makes a good movie,” Lombroso added.
He took a short break afterwards to focus on his major, but wanted to film again when the opportunity arose.
That very opportunity presented itself while Daniel was on exchange in Istanbul, Turkey. During his stay, he became enthralled with the nationwide municipal elections occurring at the time and started a blog called Voices of Istanbul.
“It was like Humans of New York with a picture of a person with [his or her] comments,” he explained. “I never could have predicted it, but my blog blew up and people were emailing me to be featured. I had about 60 people featured on my blog.”
Among those people was a man named Mehmed Aziz Yirik, who requested a time to have tea and sit down to discuss a possible creative collaboration. Yirik wanted to visit his family in eastern Turkey and suggested a documentary on the ancient civilization native to the area.
“We knew we needed to raise $3,000 to make this [project] work,” said Lombroso. “Mehmed’s father was the barber of the town and seemed to know everyone. His father’s friends didn’t speak any English, but we pitched our idea anyways.”
Like many aspects of this project, the interviews were not simple to arrange.
“Everything was a slow, tedious process,” Lombroso commented. “No one communicated through email. It was first, come over and meet my family and have tea and coffee and then tell me why you’re worth my time, and we’ll see from there.”
Post-production was not an easy task either.
“I came out with 15 hours of footage in a language I didn’t even understand,” explained Lombroso.
With the help of local Montreal editors and commentary by John Cavanagh from the BBC, Mountain of Servants was completed this January. It has already been accepted to four film festivals and took home the “Best of Fest” award at Student Television at McGill’s FOKUS Film Festival this past weekend.
He describes the 14-minute documentary as a transparent gateway into the lives of Syriacs of Tur Abdin, instead of a historian’s point of view, and hopes that the film will spur outside interest in this incredible civilization.
“I didn’t want it to be a documentary of interviews with professors,” Lombroso said. “I wanted to interview the actual people on the ground.”
If you’d like to learn more about this project, email Daniel Lombroso at [email protected].