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Today
Rising star
Title of film: Mashrou' Leila, Roman
Director: Jessy Moussallem
Production Company: Clandestino Films and Caviar
Eloquent, elegant, emotional, and edgy, this music video by new director Jessy Moussallem is a powerful ode to the rise of the spirit of Arab women. Watch it and your heart will soar. We talk with the just-signed to Caviar director about life and work in the Lebanon, and the importance of long conversations til sunrise anywhere

Please briefly describe your childhood.

I was born in 1990 in Beirut.
 
I grew up with three older brothers. My mom used to dress me always in mini skirts and I always used to come back home with scratches on my knees from playing with my brothers.

I was obsessed with fireworks. 

What led you to filmmaking and when did you realise you wanted to direct? Where did you learn the craft of making films?

I knew I wanted to tell stories from a very young age. While driving with my mother, I used to imagine the conversations of the people in the cars next to us. 

My favourite game was when my older brother used to make me listen to film scores and I had to guess what film it was. 

I was always driven by music, imagery, people stories. Directing seemed the thing that combined all of these.
 
When I finished school, my parents had registered me already in Business at the American University of Lebanon. I went secretly with my older brother to the Lebanese school of art – ALBA – and registered in audio visual studies. 
When my brother, who is ten years older, wanted to leave medicine school to do filmmaking, it was a big no no from my parents. Making films here was just like a fantasy. We have one or two films maximum per year out of Lebanon. It’s now starting to change and evolve more which is great!

My parents started taking what I do more seriously when I graduated valedictorian of my class at university when I was 19 with my diploma short film Les Aiguilles winning as well the first prize at the European film festival.

After finishing university I started working as a stylist on commercials, series and feature films. It was nice, I was making lots of money and traveling lots every time I had a cheque in my hand. But I was unhappy and I realized that I was unhappy because I wasn’t creating.

So I left Lebanon and went to Barcelona to do a Master’s in filmmaking.

Three months later I dropped out (my parents still don’t know about this) and I stayed in Barcelona for the rest of the year meeting people, partying, meeting new people, having long night conversations till sunrise. 

Coming back to Lebanon, I felt guilty so I closed myself in my room wrote a fashion short film DANSE A DEUX TEMPS (a tribute to friendship) went out found a client, co-produced and directed it. 

It got Vimeo Staff Picked five hours later, and big companies that I never thought I would ever work with started hitting me. Again being from Lebanon you feel that all this is delusional.
 
Again, second lesson of life, I realized studying or signing with big companies wasn’t the key for me. I think meeting people, falling in love, breaking up, being in pain, getting on my feet again was what made me want and learn how to tell stories – being pro active, writing these stories, producing, making things happen!
 
You have used choreography in your video Roman for the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila in a way that drives the narrative but doesn’t dominate it. Please tell us about your process for writing the script, how you worked out the balance between dance, theatre and simply filmic scenes.

Exactly.

Dance was just a way to tell the story. We could have told the same story in different ways. It’s so easy to make a beautiful image nowadays with exotic backgrounds and hip performances, but what drives me as a person and as a filmmaker is to tell stories, making people FEEL and then leaving them space to think.
 
I think I inherited the balance you are talking about from my Lebanon that I would describe as 50% chaos 50% symphony and that’s how I would describe myself and my work 50% pure 50% wild. 

Tell us also about the symbolism of the film – we’ve interpreted some scenes but may be completely wrong of course – for instance the lead character standing shoulder to shoulder with the men in the circular tower looking out to sea. Please explain further.

Honestly, I had to put the band in the film. So I tried to involve them in a way that wouldn’t affect the core of the story which is only about women.
 
The band took a backseat in the film, and left the focus on the woman like in the way they are standing in that scene you are talking about. Having them all looking to the sea, followed by a scene of 100 women walking into the water, confident in their agency, is a way to show that we are all determined for a sea change! 

Where was the location and was the shoot straight forward?

It was a crazy three-day shoot! 100 women, 37 degree Celsius (fucking hot) in the four different corners of Lebanon. It was chaotic but that’s how I like it because actors forget that they are being filmed, I didn’t follow a storyboard, I wasn’t looking into the monitor all the time. I was standing with the women acting, talking and dancing with them. It was a beautiful experience. I had goosebumps all the time.

What were the challenges of the production and how did you resolve them? 

Budget! It’s always a problem isn’t it? Especially in music videos! 

I was so lucky though to have had (a Beirut-based) production house Clandestino Films, as well as Caviar in London, and a crew and friends that believed in the film and really made the film come to life no matter what! 

Choreography plays a strong part in your films – where does your relationship with dance come from?

It happened accidentally that my two films had  dance in them. I am not a dancer (I wish I was one) but I am inspired by it as a form of expression. It’s beautiful! My upcoming projects are more narrative, documentary and fiction. 

Where do you call home and where are you based?

That’s the hardest question.

All of my stuff is in Beirut and it’s definitely home in my heart but I always find myself traveling for life, work or love. 

I think planes are the best human invention. 

(It’s just hard when you have a Lebanese passport but so far so good!) 

Credits

Mashrou’ Leila, Roman

Written and directed by Jessy Moussallem
Produced by Clandestino Films and CAVIAR
Executive Producers: Wissam Smayra – Ray Barakat – Katie Dolan
Producers: Farah Assaf – Antoine Taymour Sfeir
DP: Daniel Férnandez Abelló
Choreographer: Tuixén Benet
Dancer: Dorine Aguillar
Editor: Carlos Font Clos
Colorist: Houmam @MPC
Online artist: Sebastien Leclercq

Danse À Deux Temps

Written and directed by Jessy Moussallem
Client: Vanina
Choreography by Les Filles Föllen
Choreographer: Tuixén Benet
Featuring Mireia Salip & Andrea Just
Production: Frame Nation Films
Executive Producer: Rudy Francis
Producer: Jinane Chaaya
Production Manager: Julien Masri
DP: Daniel Férnandez Abelló
Editor: Carlos Font Clos
Colorist: Marc Moratò – La Metropolitana
AD: Tony Mhanna
Sound Engineer: Cedric Kayem
Art Director: Rana Chaoul
Music by Jon Dix & Beck Goldsmith