Leila Conners ’89

Major in International Politics with a Minor in Economics

Leila Conners ’89

What made you decide to cross the Atlantic? 

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. When it came time to go to college, I initially attended University of California, Berkeley. However, I dropped out. I’d traveled as a child to Europe and the Middle East and, for me, staying in California wasn’t my vision of life; I wanted something more worldly. I took a semester off and worked in retail to figure things out. A friend asked me what I wanted to do next, and I said I wanted to study in Europe. This was before the internet, so we got out the Yellow Pages! I called every consulate I could find, until someone at the French one told me about the American College in Paris. I called ACP and explained my situation, and they told me to apply. I got in and that was that! I told my parents: I’m moving to France! 

What did you find when you got here? 

I got exactly what I wanted out of the school: an international experience. There were so many different cultures and people! I also needed a smaller school and an intimacy to my education and friendships. After class, I would come back to the AMEX Café and talk to people from all over the world. I gained an understanding of where the US fits in the world and of what US culture is. It was humbling, but it gave me a perspective that is important to me to this day. 

What led to you founding Tree Media after leaving AUP? 

I founded Tree Media based on some of the concepts I’d learned at the University. One of my first jobs after AUP was with a think tank. I’d studied ideas of regionalism, of the international system and of the rise and fall of great powers; these concepts convinced me of the importance of supporting and sustaining civil society. One of my favorite things I learned was Joseph Nye’s notion of soft power: the idea that cultural influence has wide-ranging geopolitical implications. I wanted to create Tree Media to be a source for good. Today, I’m collaborating with Nye on a series about one of his books. I literally interviewed him yesterday! I’m living out what I learned at AUP. 

What kind of projects does Tree Media work on? 

Tree Media was set up in New York at the advent of the internet. I wanted to use new technology to illuminate pathways towards the kind of world we all want to live in. We started off doing websites for nonprofits. But I soon realized that film was the medium of our time, so we switched to doing movies. We’ve worked with Woody Harrelson on his vision of the world. We’ve worked with Leonardo DiCaprio on environmental speeches, events and movies. We’ve worked with Mikhail Gorbachev on nuclear disarmament. Our work has twice been selected for the Cannes Film Festival. 

What advice would you offer students looking to enter filmmaking? 

I’d advise anyone interested in participating in media to study history or international politics rather than film or journalism. You’ll need to travel extensively, too, before you start talking about the world. I think that, often, that’s why media can be so misleading: because people are inexperienced and not well traveled. At college, you can study the world, and that will help you be in service of the greater good rather than too focused on the technical side of things. If you stay educated and alert, it will help you be a global citizen.