Interview with director Jessica Mansour

Beirut-born Jessica Mansour is a film director and actress. With so much passion and raw dedication, she started acting in films and commercials at the age of 15. Jessica’s early beginnings made her discover her love for film at an early age. Her capstone, short film “Melody in the shadow” was screened in many local and international festivals including “Cannes film festival – Short Film Corner”. Jessica continued taking various “Directing” and “Acting” courses between Paris and Beirut. In her studies she focused on “Directing actors” by implementing methods such as the “Strasberg acting” method, and “Chekov acting” method. Her career started through working in commercials and films. As an actress, she took roles in many films such as “The insult” (academy award nominee film), “The good Shepherd” and “Sweet discomfort”. In the meantime, her directing career continues to grow through her various work in commercials and films in Beirut, Dubai and other countries.

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

While growing up , many classical films effected me in so many ways. I got aware of the impact a film can do, especially diving in people’s stories and life experiences. Since I was a child, I visualize stories and characters in my head and I have always been sensible to people’s experiences, so a desire was born in my heart to translate their stories in my own perspective. “Stillness” my short film portrays a real event that happened to me and every person living in Lebanon; witnessing the explosion of Beirut on the 4th of August, a traumatizing day for us all. I was aware of how much a film can awake the memory of that day.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

Success is a word that can be defined in so many ways. Having a degree or not in filmmaking is not a rule. We have seen so many great directors who did not attend film schools and they ended up doing masterpieces. However these directors have worked hard on themselves. Personally, my film institute helped me learn and grow my knowledge on many aspects in Cinema, learning on all departments. BUT this knowledge couldn’t help me on the ground if I didn’t practice and learn from my own experiences. To become a real filmmaker is to master and know how to translate the vision in our head to the outside world, to know how to collaborate with the team, how things are dealt with on the ground and to know technicalities as well.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

Both, to have enough trust in yourself, and then once you start and take off. Both are challenging, to dream is to work hard and to believe in what we do. If we believe then no one and nothing can change that. To keep on the faith is what matters, it is the key to overcome whatever comes in the way, which is often a slow and bumpy journey.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

I learned to follow my heart , trust my gut, and to persevere.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

There weren’t any big compromises and surprises during this film, peace was over it. Working with talented and dedicated team, the film process went very smoothly.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

On set of my short film “Melody in the shadow”, I had to decide if I would go for a colored or Black & White mood. A lot of research and mood references were done in the pre-­‐production phase, once on set the DOP and I saw a new direction for the film on camera, it was a huge surprise, and I went for it minutes before rolling. It ended up to be the best decision I made for the film!

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

I strongly believe in the power of a community and I do believe in the necessity of a successful collaboration with the team. The process of the film is as important as its result, so keeping a strong relationship is important. It makes us grow in so many ways. To be genuine, open, and trustful within the team comes as priority.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

The audience wants to see a reflection of their own mind and heart in films, whatever the genre is. I do believe that a filmmaker should always follow his own vision, without really depending on anything exterior, only if it helps in the growth of the vision and to evolve in the overall film process.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

As a filmmaker, film festivals open doors for new projects and new connections. Films should be shared and not hidden.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

Each one of us has its singularity and originality in life. As far as a filmmaker believes in his own vision, there is always something new to discover, the sky is the limit.