The Song of Sway Lake


After the death of his father, young jazz collector Ollie Sway (Rory Culkin) recruits his only friend, a Russian drifter (Robert Sheehan), to help him steal the first recorded version of a World War 2 hit called “Sway Lake” from his own family’s lake estate. The plan is derailed when his accomplice falls in love with Ollie’s aristocratic grandmother, the glamorous Charlie Sway (Mary Beth Peil), who sees in the young Russian the glory of her youth.

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RORY CULKIN as Ollie Sway
MARY BETH PEIL as Charlie Sway

with Voice Performances by

JOHN GRANT as Tweed McKay
THE STAVES as The Eden Sisters

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Directed by


Written by


Produced by


Executive Producers




Cinematography by


Original Music and Songs by


Production Designer


Costume Designer


Edited by


Sound Design






Nostalgia and trauma are often linked. Two days into my first silent meditation retreat, the image of a sinking watch shot into my mind. I didn’t understand what it meant. When I emerged, I realized that this vision was both my life’s greatest challenge and the meaning of my film, which I was nearly finished editing after some financial and creative challenges.

I was linked to the three main characters not by biography, but by the struggle to let go of time. Charlie Sway, a glamorous matriarch in her seventies, seeks her own past; her burdened grandson Ollie seeks the past’s perfection only to destroy it; and the outsider, Nikolai, wants to steal someone else’s past as his own.

Spending summers in the Adirondacks as a kid, I was fascinated by this place that seemed to exist outside of time. On the lakes lived a declining American royalty. Along with their unfair privilege, its members were saddled with emotional paralysis. Still, I was jealous of those private lakes. For me, the real sway was 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 write. We took on the subjects of nostalgia, projection, and longing through characters who cannot tolerate the present. For Ollie Sway, we needed an actor who carried the shock of recent loss on his face, and found it in the immensely sensitive Rory Culkin. For Nikolai, an immigrant whose adoration of a heroic fabled America meets reality in the Sway family, my Russian director friend helped us choose Robert Sheehan - recognizing in him a one-of-a-kind mix of charisma and clown. And for the role of Charlie, which demanded icy majesty, sensual beauty, and hidden layers of feeling, we were lucky to work with the magnificent Mary Beth Peil.

We filmed on Blue Mountain Lake, New York, pretending that it was once a glamorous private estate. Despite the intimate cast and crew, the schedule was in constant flux as we danced to the ever-changing weather, or to the piano when the power was knocked out for real. The Sways’ brooding maid Marlena, brought to life by Elizabeth Peña, gave me one of my greatest experiences as a director. I’ll never forget rowing across the lake for a secret midnight conversation with Elizabeth, where she asked me to consider a scandalous possibility about her character’s history with the deceased “Captain Sway.” I approved, and suggested adding dialog to hint her idea to the audience. “I’ll do it better without saying a word,” Elizabeth said - and her performance is a testament to that gutsy truth. What a rare actor to ask for less lines! Her loss is a huge one.

Scent and music are the strongest triggers of human memory, and because you can’t smell a movie (though I tried!), I counted on my gifted twin brother Ethan to weave brilliant original music with my vintage tunes, to catapult the audience through frozen time, like that watch. Music is a boobytrap that yanks us into the past, which can be intoxicating or toxic, depending how we process it. Ethan understood that the song - created for the film but suggesting history - had to dance with the imperfection of the present. That dance is the real sway.

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Rory Culkin • “Ollie Sway”

Known for his roles in SIGNS and SCREAM 4, Rory Culkin has also played in acclaimed indies such as Ben Howe’s GABRIEL, which landed him a Breakthrough Actor nomination at the 2015 Gotham Independent Film Awards. Other film credits include JACK GOES HOME, INTRUDER, THE ZODIAC, DOWN IN THE VALLEY, LYMELYFE, TWELVE, HICK, IGBY GOES DOWN and ELECTRICK CHILDREN. Rory was nominated for a Spirit Award for Best Supporting Young Actor for his role in YOU CAN COUNT ON ME and he was part of the cast of MEAN CREEK which won a Spirit Award for Best Ensemble Cast.

Rory will next be seen in COLUMBUS opposite Parker Posey and John Cho for Kogonada which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. He’s just wrapped LORDS OF CHAOS where he plays the lead opposite Emory Cohen and Jack Kilmer for Jonas Åkerlund and UNCHAINED opposite Adrien Brody, John Malkovich and Antonio Banderas for Paul Solet and Millennium Films. Rory is currently shooting The Weinstein Company/Paramount Network series Waco opposite Michael Shannon and Taylor Kitsch where he portrays David Thibodeau.

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Robert Sheehan • “Nikolai”

Robert shot to fame in the BAFTA award winning MISFITS (for which he was also BAFTA nominated for Best Supporting Actor), and is now starring in the epic MORTAL ENGINES (2018) for MRC/Universal, with Peter Jackson producing.

He has recently completed GEOSTORM for Warner Bros. and BAD SAMARITAN for Electric Entertainment. He made his acting debut in Aisling Walsh’ s acclaimed feature film Song For A Raggy Boy. Since then, features include Ghostwood (Maxim Pictures), Summer of the Flying Saucer (Magma), Season of the Witch (Atlas Entertainment), Cherrybomb (Generator Entertainment), Killing Bono (Cinema Three), The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (Constantin Film), The Road Within (Amasia Entertainment), Anita B (Jean Vigo Italia), The Messenger (Gateway Films), Moonwalkers (Partizan), Jet Trash (Aimimage). Television includes Foreign Exchange (Magma Film/9 Network Australia), Young Blades (Insight/PAX TV), Bittersweet (RTE), all three films in the BAFTA award winning Red Riding trilogy (Revolution Films/Channel 4), multi IFTA award winning Love Hate (for which he was twice nominated for Best Actor) for RTE/Octagon Films, The Borrowers for Working Title/BBC, Me and Mrs Jones for BBC/Hartswood Films, The Accused for BBC and, most recently Fortitude for Fifty Fathoms/Sky Atlantic. On stage he has appeared at the Old Vic Theatre in the title role in The Playboy of the Western World, directed by John Crowley and as Richard III in Trevor Nunn’s The Wars of the Roses.

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Mary Beth Peil • “Charlie Sway”

Mary Beth Peil was nominated for a Tony recently for her performance on Broadway in ANASTASIA (Tony, Drama Desk, & Outer Critics Award Nominations). Her additional Broadway credits include Les Liaisons Dangereuses; The Visit; Follies; Women on the Verge…; Sunday in the Park…; Nine; The King and I (Tony nomination). Her Off-Broadway work include many productions with Atlantic Theater (ensemble member and Obie winner); Cheever Evening, Later Life (Playwrights Horizon); First Ladies Suite (Transport Group); Sylvia (MTC); Hedda Gabler (NYTW). Regional: Hartford Stage, La Jolla Playhouse, Arena Stage, About Face, Long Wharf, Yale Rep, Kennedy Center. TV: “The Good Wife” (Jackie); “Dawson’s Creek” (Grams); “Law & Order: SVU” ; “The Fringe.” Film: The Contest, Mirrors, Plagues of Our Fathers, The Reagans, Stepford Wives II, Odd Couple II.

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Isabelle McNally • “Isadora”

Isabelle McNally is an actress, known for Frances Ha, Before I Disappear and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him. She has most recently been seen as the character Madeleine Loomis in Bates Motel on A & E, and in the indie films Amnesia and The Big Spoon. She has also appeared on Netflix’s House of Cards.

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Elizabeth Peña • “Marlena”

Elizabeth's love for the arts came naturally, as her father was a well-known playwright, actor, director and novelist, so it’s not hard to understand that by the time she was 8, Cuban-American Elizabeth Pena already had designs to become an actress. Born in New Jersey, raised in New York, Elizabeth's, and her sister, sister, Tania's parents, Mario and Estella Margarita Peña, had opened off-Broadway's Latin American Theatre Ensemble, and were more than encouraging. Elizabeth attended New York City's High School of the Performing Arts, now the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts, and found occasional work in repertory theatre and in television commercials. Her film debut in the independent Spanish-speaking feature, El Super (1979), and started her on a long line of independent and rebellious characters which showed plenty of independence. During the early 80s, she played everything - from a knifethreatening waitress to a disco queen, as she waited for her big break. The big break came in the 1990's form of 2 hugely successful films of different genres; one was the hugely popular comedy, Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), co-starring Bette Midler, Richard Dreyfuss and Nick Nolte, in which she stole many scenes as the sultry, politically-minded maid, "Carmen", who lusts for Nolte, and the other was the mystery, drama, Jacob's Ladder (1990) This propelled her to move to Los Angeles, where she continued to spice up both the big and small screen, including the part of Ritchie Valens' stepsister-in-law, in the well-received biopic, La Bamba (1987). Honors also came by Elizabeth's way, when she received the "Independent Spirit" and "Bravo" awards for the film, Lone Star (1996), and the "ALMA Award" for Tortilla Soup (2001). On TV, Elizabeth never found the one series role which could showcase her abilities fully. Co-starring roles in Tough Cookies (1986), I Married Dora (1987) and Shannon's Deal (1990) were short-lived. Elizabeth was married since 1994 married to Hans Rolla. The couple had 2 children; a son, Kælan, and a daughter, Fiona . She passed away after a brief illness.

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Jack Falahee • “Jimmy”

Jack Falahee appeared in films and television shows before his breakout role as Connor Walsh in the Shonda Rhimes-produced ABC series "How to Get Away with Murder." He was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and graduated New York University's Tisch School of the Arts where he performed in the several stage productions.

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Brian Dennehy • Voice of “Hal Sway”

Brian Dennehy is a Tony- and Golden Globe-winning actor, well respected on both screen and stage whose breakout role in the box-office smash First Blood (1982) as a bigoted sheriff escalated him to world fame. He starred in the Cold War thriller Gorky Park (1983), as a benevolent alien in Cocoon (1985), a corrupt sheriff in the western Silverado (1985), a tough but smart cop in F/X (1986) and a cop-turned-writer alongside hit man James Woods in Best Seller (1987). In 1987, Dennehy turned in one of his finest performances as cancer-ridden architect "Stourley Kracklite" in Peter Greenaway's superb The Belly of an Architect (1987), for which he won the Best Actor Award at the 1987 Chicago Film Festival. More strong performances followed. He reprised prior roles for Cocoon: The Return (1988) and F/X2 (1991), and turned in gripping performances in three made-for-TV films: a sadistic small-town bully who gets his grisly comeuppance in In Broad Daylight (1991), real-life serial killer John Wayne Gacy in the chilling To Catch a Killer (1992) and a corrupt union boss in Teamster Boss: The Jackie Presser Story (1992). In 1993, Dennehy appeared in the role of police "Sgt. Jack Reed" in the telemovie Jack Reed: Badge of Honor (1993), and reprised the role in four sequels, which saw him for the first time become involved in co-producing, directing and writing screen productions! Demand for his services showed no signs of abating, and he has put in further memorable performances in Romeo + Juliet (1996), as bad-luck-ridden "Willy Loman" in Death of a Salesman (2000) (which earned him a Golden Globe Award), he popped up in the uneven Spike Lee film She Hate Me (2004) and appears in the remake Assault on Precinct 13 (2005). The multi-talented Dennehy has also had a rich theatrical career and has appeared both in the United States and internationally in dynamic stage productions including "Death of a Salesman" (for which he picked up the 1999 Best Actor Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award), "A Touch of the Poet", "Long Day's Journey into Night" (for which he picked up another Tony Award in 2003) and in Eugene O'Neill's heart-wrenching "The Iceman Cometh".





It’s been the most spectacular of journeys for “the greatest American voice in Europe” - from a time when John Grant feared he’d never escape a life of addiction, to winning awards, topping charts, selling out the Royal Albert Hall, and collaborating with Sinead O’Connor, Goldfrapp, Elton John, Kylie Minogue and Hercules & Love Affair. Being a “Best International Male Solo Artist” at the BRITS awards alongside Eminem, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars and Drake, seemed like some fantasy dreamt up in a moment of outrageous hubris. Just months later, the BBC requested a session with John and symphony orchestra, leading to the latest spectacular chapter in his personal and artistic renaissance. He is now acknowledged as one of the greatest voices in a generation, and has recently released a new album.


Following the widespread global acclaim for the Justin Vernon produced ‘If I Was1 in 2015, The Staves returned in 2016 with the stellar 3-track Sleeping In A Car EP. After a relocation to Minneapolis in May, the band embarked on their first North American tour in almost three years, selling out venues in major markets across the continent. They spent their summer performing at festivals across the United States and Canada, with a trip back to the UK for a headline show at London1s Royal Festival Hall as part of Guy Garvey1s Meltdown. The Staves finished the year with a November tour of the midwest United States, and look forward to heading back into the studio to work on new music.

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Ari Gold is an award-winning writer, director, installation artist and musician whose films, at first glance rather diverse, are strongly linked by themes of music and of self-discovery. His new film, the multi-generational family drama The Song of Sway Lake, featuring Rory Culkin, Robert Sheehan, Mary Beth Peil, Elizabeth Peña, Isabelle McNally, Jack Falahee, Brian Dennehy, John Grant, and The Staves, was selected as Opening Night Film at six international film festivals, and played 45 film festivals worldwide, winning numerous awards before its limited release in the US in ten cities in September 2018.  

Previously, Ari directed the cult comedy Adventures of Power ("One of the funniest films in recent years" - NY Magazine), presented at Sundance and Karlovy-Vary. His student-Oscar-winning short Helicopter, about his mother’s death in the helicopter crash that killed rock music promoter Bill Graham, is expanding into a feature film with psychomagical mentoring from legendary filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. 

Ari’s most unusual distinctions include winning High Times Magazine’s "Stoner of the Year" award, and holding a Guinness World Record for commanding the largest ever air-drum ensemble on earth.

His next major project, currently in development, is a game-changing action-adventure fiction TV series about ecology, war, shamanism, and the liberation of the human spirit. Follow: @AriGold on Instagram+Twitter.


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Michael Bederman has worked alongside accomplished directors including Niels Arden Oplev, David Frankel, George Nolfi, Michael Cuesta, Drake Doremus, Ari Gold, Joel Schumacher, Ben Lewin, and Miguel Arteta. Michael was instrumental in the making of Tom McCarthy’s film SPOTLIGHT starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams,and Liev Schreiber, which was nominated for 6 Academy Awards and won Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture of the Year. He is a member of the PGA, DGA, and Directors Guild of Canada, and a frequent guest lecturer at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.



Zak Kilberg is a Producer and founder of Social Construct Films, which handles the creative development, financing, production and worldwide sales for a slate of feature films and television series. Kilberg’s projects have won awards at major film festivals including Sundance and have been acquired by top distributors worldwide including Lionsgate, Universal, HBO, IFC, Tribeca and more. Zak is currently producing the Buena Vista Social Club follow up documentary w/ 2x Oscar nominated director Lucy Walker, set for theatrical release w/ Broad Green Pictures in summer 2017, and developing the NY Times best selling memoir Guantanamo Diary, w/ Benedict Cumberbatch and his company Sunny March on board to produce.



Allison Rose Carter has produced over 15 feature films including Eyad Zahra’s THE TAQWACORES, which took part in the inaugural NEXT category at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Ira Sachs’ LOVE IS STRANGE, Matt Ross’ FRANK & LOLA, and Dustin Guy Defa’s PERSON TO PERSON also had their premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to worldwide distribution. She works all over the world, but resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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Elizabeth Bull is a fiction writer and screenwriter from Sebastopol, California now co-writing a pilot for Radical Media with Cary Fukunaga (“True Detective”, “Beasts of No Nation”). She co-produced the feature film “Adventures of Power” for Grack Films and wrote and produced a short for Conde Nast entertainment, “Self Stories.” She also worked in television development for the AMC network. Her fiction has appeared in numerous lit journals.




Eric Lin first started making films while studying sociology and film criticism at UC Berkeley before New York University's Graduate Film Program, where he earned his MFA in cinematography. His feature film work includes Bradley Rust Gray’ s, “The Exploding Girl”; William H. Macy’s directorial debut, "Rudderless"; and Adam Salky’ s “I Smile Back”. His recent projects include Meera Menon's "Equity," which premiered in competition at Sundance 2016 and was picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics; and Sophie Goodhart's "My Blind Brother," which premiered at SXSW 2016 and is distributed by Starz. His latest feature, "Aardvark", starring Zachary Quinto, Jenny Slate, and Jon Hamm, premiered in competition at Tribeca 2017.




Ethan Gold is a songwriter, composer, music producer, performer, music video director, and multi-instrumentalist. He also scored his brother Ari Gold’s earlier films Helicopter and Adventures of Power.  His own solo albums, both song-based and instrumental, have been praised in Pitchfork, The Sunday Times, and publications around the world.  For The Song of Sway Lake Ethan created a “masterful minimalist score” (Ain’t it Cool News), and wrote original songs in a 1940s style for John Grant and the Staves to sing.

“Gold's bravura effort to create original music to both fit the jazz age theme as well as pushing the boundaries by blending elements of classical and new music and enlisting artists such Jon Hassell, John Grant, The Staves and Fred Frith, results in one of the most striking and extensive scores we've heard in a while.” - AMFM Magazine

“‘Sway Lake (Lost Record Version)’ sounds like it was ripped straight from a long-buried 78rpm record found in a grandparent's attic trunk and freshly cleaned of five-plus decades' worth of dust.” - Under the Radar

“The soundtrack appropriately captures the film's themes of longing to recapture better days. The reveal of the titular track is amazing.” - Film Threat

2018 HMMA Nominee, “Sway Lake (Lost Record Version)”

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US: Derek Kigongo, Paradigm


Producer Contact

Zak Kilberg


Director Contact

Ari Gold

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