After growing up in the secular households of their Turkish immigrant parents in the Midwest, Özlem and Ada are desperate to celebrate a tradition of their own. Together, they embark on a day of fasting and feasting for Ramadan and embrace their cultural differences along the way.

Director’s Vision for ‘Breaking Fast with a Coca Cola’

During the Spring of 2021, I awoke one morning realizing that the date was only a few days before the beginning of Ramadan. In an almost dreamlike state of reflection, I fondly remembered a summer fifteen years prior where my best friend and I decided to fast for Ramadan for the first time. Because our immigrant parents feared persecution in America, we grew up in secular Turkish households in the Midwest and knew nothing about what fasting entailed or the rules required of us. We only knew that we needed to abstain from eating from sunrise to sunset. That summer taught us the power of religion as a creator of community and was an exercise actively making a choice to incorporate a practice into our identity, rather than have it influenced by a parent. In an uncomfortable political landscape post 9/11, we proudly held up a religious practice that society advised us to downplay.

I took this experience and wrote an essay, “Breaking Fast with a Coca Cola”, which I later adapted into a short film. This script received the 2022 WAVE (Women At the Very Edge) Grant from Wavelength Productions and within a matter of months went from words on a page to pre-production. I had never directed a film before, but I am an avid lover of arthouse cinema and have worked on the business side of several films, so I went into this process with a clear vision of what I wanted. Afterall, this was a fictionalized version of a story I knew very well – I lived it.

Within weeks of receiving the grant, I brought on two seasoned producers Jordan Hart (DEAR MAMA, PATERNO) and Karine Benzaria (CLARE, MARCY LEARNS SOMETHING NEW), who whipped pre-production into shape and helped me bring together an incredibly talented group of all BIPOC female head of departments. The core of BREAKING FAST WITH A COCA COLA is about two Turkish American teens who feel their otherness and long for community. It was important for me to hire traditionally underrepresented groups to fill these roles and be an active player in changing the landscape of Hollywood. Our female HODs consisted of: DP Mika Hawley (COUPLES THERAPY, SHIVA BABY), Production Designer Heather Yancey (FOREVER ALONE, THE AMERICANS), Costume Designer Jesca Alfano (THE JOKER, POSE) and Editor Yael Urbach (TASTE THE NATION).

When it came to casting for the film, I always knew I wanted to cast Güneş Şensoy (MUSTANG) to play Ada. Growing up in the Midwest and even later living in New York, I failed to see Turkish films or characters represented in mainstream or indie films. When MUSTANG premiered in 2015, that changed the film landscape and now opened up a world of possibilities for Turkish actors and filmmakers. I personally reached out to Güneş about the role and after reading the script, she was on board. This was a surreal moment for me, a first time filmmaker, to go out there and cast one of my favorite actors for a story that I wrote and was about to direct. That was when I knew how special this story was. For the other Middle Eastern roles, we hired Andrew Dahreddine (RAMY) who brought his specialized expertise to cast actors of this background.

Every part of this film was thought through with care to maintain the authenticity of the story. We partnered with MENA brands for production (Yeni Raki, local Turkish restaurants, Turkish artists) and costume (Etsy vendors to source caftans and evil eye jewelry) design. Further, we contracted licensing agreements with Muslim content creators to license video footage of Mecca and Sufis. We also licensed two songs from the Turkish band Altın Gün, an Anatolian band who performs cover songs of classic Turkish folk songs. Setting this precedent was important to me as a first-time director and I could not be more proud of our team and the film that we are submitting today.