Imagination runs wild when you’re a child, and that was exactly the case for Jessy Moussallem who spent much of her time as a kid obsessively watching films. “It allowed me to dream of another reality”, she explained.
But although escapism ultimately guided the 28-year-old Lebanese director’s love of film, it’s sentience that shaped her take on it. With every piece of work, Moussallem’s barefaced mission of digging deeper into the complexities of what it means to be human has grown more and more explicit.
From a narrative of heroism and sacrifice being playing as the backdrop for French DJ Agoria’s song Embrace and raw portrayals of the Lebanese red hashish communities for Damian Lazarus’ album Heart of sky, to an ode to strength and resilience in her film for Mashrou’ Leila’s Roman.
In the midst of finalizing yet another film with the Lebanese rock band, we caught up with Moussallem to chat about how she crafts her stories, her favourite films, and why we all need friends who criticize our work.
Your work is quite personal, there is always an element that’s very distinctly yours. What made you choose film as your medium?
I am fascinated with life and people. It’s beyond the films. I feel this is how I’ve always been, fond of the world in its most oscillating, seeking purity in pain, seeing the symphony in chaos and, above all, constantly confronting the complexity of human being. I think this is reflected, instinctively, in my work. I like to make things that are soulful.
How would you describe your creative process?
It always starts with themes or characters that I am curious and obsessed about. I pour myself into the films I do, I give it my all, so it has to be an obsession. Making films is a great way and tool for me to dig deeper into those themes and somehow live closely to those characters. It’s an organic process. I am very involved in every aspect of the craft during preparation, but once I’m on the shoot I don’t necessarily stick to all what was planned. I like to leave chance for surprises. I like a bit of chaos. I don’t wake up and do the exact same thing every day. Discipline doesn’t work for me, routine kills me. It’s the same when I am on a shoot, I like to be surprised. I like not knowing exactly what’s going to happen, to be open to moments I can’t control and then use my instinct to drive me. Magic comes from those moments. I strive for those moments when making a film.
What films have had the biggest influence on your cinematic style?
The films that I watched in my childhood and as a teenager. They’re the films I absorbed the most. Films like Annie, The Sound of Music, Donkey Skin, Tales of The Four Seasons will forever be printed in my mind. I have three older brothers and being the fourth child, there was no discipline. I’d always watch films with them. I remember being impressed and moved by The Player, Shortcuts, La Vita e Bella, Central do Brazil, Empire of the Sun and Magnolia.
What excites you the most about filmmaking?
Movies take us to other places, they open doors and minds, they can touch our hearts and change the way we see things. Above all, films are eternal.
What’s a new film that you watched lately and you loved?
Custody. There is such mastery and strength in the mis-en-scene. It hurts!
What advice would you give to someone that wants pursue a career in filmmaking?
I understood, with time, that you have to be yourself and to fight for who you are. It’s actually the only way to survive. The lack of differences is the end of progress, the end of ideas. Don’t let anyone fool you to be someone else or to push you to do something that might be working for them or for others . It is by doing so that we kill a quality that only we have, something different, and the possibility of a change. Surround yourself with people that love you, who support your vision, but will still criticize your work and push you to do better. You don’t need people who uselessly compliment you.
What’s next for you?
I am writing my first feature which been the most exciting and frightening personal chapter in my life and career. I’m also releasing a new film for Mashrou Leila soon!