Leila Kannan has risen to the top of the music video industry – and has the awards to prove it. She talks to Natasha Dirany.
Everyone knows lots of singers now use music videos just to show themselves off, waiting for someone to call them from abroad, from the khaleej, for private parties – it’s their business, it’s like soft porn. ‘For me it’s so superficial... boobs, legs and ass.’
It’s rare to hear a music video director talk so candidly, but that’s precisely the attitude that has led Leila Kannan, winner of two MEMA’s and two Murex D’Or’s this spring, to become one of the most lusted after names in the industry – and one of the youngest
In just four and half years, Kannan has risen from earnest university student to major league director, handling $300,000 shoots for the pop world’s biggest stars: Nancy Ajram, Haifa Wehbe and Myriam Fares have all been attracted to her fresh approach.
An IESAV graduate, she fell into the career almost by accident after Bashar Darwish attended a screening of her final project, short film ‘My Father’s House’; the singer soon approached her to direct his new song ‘Sayyad’. ‘It was unexpected but I thought “why not” and gave it a try.’
The rest is VJ history. From Colgate ads to Rashed Al Majid and Yara’s ‘Al Maw3ed Al Dazi3’, you’ll know you’re watching a Kannan clip by its burlesque humour and ‘retro-modernism’. ‘I think it’s very boring to show only the reality today, because people are very fed up with reality. So I try and make them travel. Sometimes I’m very dreamy... Nancy Ajram’s ‘Machi Haddi’, Haifa’s ‘Baby Be Good’... where actually I’m mixing a little bit of surrealism.’
Salvador Dali, in fact, is one of Kannan’s many influences – Tim Burton is another. ‘When I travel, I go to Paris a lot, I visit many museums. I love fashion too. If I hadn’t of been a director I definitely would have been a fashion designer.’
She shares memories of asking her grandmother to design clothes for her (and her Barbie), and cites Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano as some of her favourite designers. ‘You can link Vivienne Westwood and Tim Burton somehow.’ But can they be linked to the increasingly repetitive realm of Arabic pop? Kannan looks set to bridge the gap – and to challenge the tacky portrayal of singers that bounce around our screens. ‘
There’s lots of horrible images of women on the TV... I like to show a woman’s weakness as much as their strength; it’s more interesting to show this contradiction.’ When asked what it’s like to work with such infamous ‘divas’, the director squashes the rumours. Haifa is described as ‘generous’ and ‘smart’ - ‘she knows what she wants and how to get it’ – and Nancy Ajram as ‘so modest’. ‘Yara is sensitive and very professional.
When I say you have to be on set at 4am, she’s here at 4am. And she stays til late. I’m really happy to have worked with all of these people.’ Despite the celebrity-filled black book, Kannan doesn’t favour the lifestyle of the rich and famous. ‘You’ll be surprised but I don’t party at all. I’ve never put a foot in Sky Bar or White.’
Instead, the director chooses to spend her precious spare time on a ‘very nice, but very shabby’ riverbank in her hometown of Saida. ‘There’s an olive tree I like to sit under... I see people every day, so when I’m alone I really like to let my mind be a little bit free.’
Time off seems an unlikely prospect for Kannan, who’s busy planning her next project – one outside the pop music spectrum.
‘I don’t know if it’s going to be a feature film or a TV series... I think the future is in TV now, when you see everything that’s happening in America: I love Pushing Daises, Madman,
Tudors... and I think we lack this in Lebanon.’ A Kannan-flavoured, Emmy-worthy television series for the Arab world? Let’s hope it’s only a matter of time.