Private Project

The Song of Sway Lake

It’s summer on Sway Lake, former playground of the jazz-age New York aristocracy. Young music collector Ollie Sway (Rory Culkin) recruits his only friend, a rowdy Russian drifter (Robert Sheehan), to help him steal a one-of-a-kind vintage record from his own family's glamorous lake house. Ollie believes that possessing the secret recording of the WW2-era hit, “Sway Lake,” will magically boost his confidence with women - and redeem his father, who committed suicide on the lake.

But the arrival of Ollie's beguiling grandmother, Charlie Sway, changes everything. The vision of the matriarch transfixes the young Russian - and Charlie has her own plans for the mysterious music, which hasn’t been heard in half a century. For this song may possess the answer to the deepest riddles about love, passion, death, and memory - for whichever lost soul is first to find it.

Featuring a sparkling soundtrack of classic songs - as well as the stunning original of the title - “The Song of Sway Lake” is a romantic drama about the vanished grace of America, and the spells cast by the melodies of lost time.

  • Ari Gold
  • Ari Gold
  • Elizabeth Bull
  • Ari Gold
  • Michael Bederman
  • Allison Carter
  • Zak Kilberg
  • Anne Bernstein
  • Garret Fennely
  • Rory Culkin
    Key Cast
  • Robert Sheehan
    Key Cast
  • Mary Beth Peil
    Key Cast
  • Isabelle McNally
    Key Cast
  • Elizabeth Pena
    Key Cast
  • Jack Falahee
    Key Cast
  • Brian Dennehy
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Drama, Music, Romance, Fantasy
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 34 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    July 12, 2017
  • Production Budget:
    700,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Munich International Film Festival (2018)
    July 1, 2018
    German Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Mallorca International Film Festival
    Palma de Mallorca
    October 26, 2017
    Opening Night Gala Film
  • Woodstock Film Festival
    United States
    October 8, 2017
    Official Selection
  • Seneca Film Festival
    United States
    October 26, 2017
    Audience Award
  • Norwegian International Film Festival
    August 29, 2017
    Official Selection
  • Los Angeles Film Festival
    Los Angeles
    United States
    June 29, 2017
    Official Selection
  • Laughlin International Film Festival
    United States
    November 14, 2017
    Jury Award (Film); Best Actor (Robert Sheehan)
Distribution Information
  • Kew International
    Country: Worldwide
  • The Orchard
    Country: United States
    Rights: Internet, Video on Demand, Pay Per View, Hotel, Airline, Ship, Video / Disc, Free TV, Paid TV, Console / Handheld Device
Director Biography - Ari Gold

Ari Gold is a student-Oscar-winning writer, director, and artist whose films are linked by musical and environmental themes. He directed the cult comedy "Adventures of Power" ("One of the funniest films in recent years" - NY Magazine), and dozens of award-winning shorts and videos that have been presented everywhere from Sundance to Karlovy-Vary. He also directed the Woodstock award-winning short film "Helicopter”, about his mother’s death, which he is now expanding into a feature film with psychomagic advice from Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Ari’s most unusual distinctions include winning High Times Magazine’s "Stoner of the Year" award, and being enshrined in the Guinness Book of World Records for commanding the largest air-drum ensemble on earth. His next major project, currently in development, is an action-adventure series.

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Director Statement

Spending summers in the Adirondacks as a kid, I became fascinated by this giant swath of wilderness that seemed to exist outside of time. In the lakes was the history of the great American royalty, now in decline and often in conflict with year-round residents. My grandparents, while not members of this royalty, aspired to it. But the present was always catching up to them, as it is to everyone whose nostalgia gives even the sunny days a hint of melancholy. The real sway is always out of reach.

When Elizabeth Bull and I embarked on the screenplay, we had our own kind of nostalgia, for the intimate French and Swedish summer movies that made us want to make movies. We decided to take on nostalgia through three characters who cannot tolerate the present: Ollie Sway, a collector of old music, hoping to erase his father’s suicide with the perfect song and the perfect girl; Nikolai, an immigrant whose adoration of a heroic fabled America meets reality in the Sway family; and the matriarch Charlie Sway, longing for a past in which a woman in her seventies could shine with great natural beauty, as a queen.

For the character of Ollie, we needed an actor who carried the shock of recent loss on his face, and found it in the immensely sensitive Rory Culkin. My Russian director friend Serguie Bassine helped us select Robert Sheehan to play Nikolai, recognizing in him the bombastic, exaggerated “Russianness” that some immigrants use to charm gullible Americans. And for the essential role of the matriarch Charlie Sway, which required icy charisma masking a hidden capacity to love, we were lucky to find the magnificent Tony-nominated Mary Beth Peil.

In addition to the great honor of making a sex symbol of Mary Beth Peil, one of the unforgettable experiences of my life was working with Elizabeth Peña, an actor of such fierce intelligence that she suggested making the character of Marlena almost silent, due to the secrets and burdens she carries. What a rare actor, asking the director to remove lines! She was right, and I will never forget rowing across the lake for midnight conversation with Elizabeth, to plot these secrets and silences. Her loss is a huge one.

We filmed on Blue Mountain Lake, New York, a public lake, selectively editing to create the sense of a glamorous once-private estate. Despite the intimate cast and crew, the schedule was in constant flux as we worked with the ever-changing weather, dancing to the piano when the power was sometimes knocked out for real. And as with the weather on the water, music was an integral part of the theme of an uncatchable, idealized reality. My twin brother Ethan Gold (with singers John Grant and The Staves channeling the era) created two versions of a song, to round out the lost world. The past reaches to us in rain, in water, in memory, in melody, and in death. But the past does not really exist. Only this exists: what’s outside our windows and in our hearts at this moment.

The story within the film, and in the making of it, is a story of meeting the present. Dance with what is: that’s the real sway.