Meet the Coolest Girl in Independent Film: Billoub

I first met the wonderful Billoub, real name Gabrielle, on twitter around two years ago. A talented French artist, filmmaker, and all-round ‘cool girl’, her work has been shown at international film festivals and she is constantly proving herself as one to watch within the independent film industry.

I was fortunate enough to have a good chat with Billoub back in November, and we discussed everything from film and feminism to french-girl stereotypes, as well as her animated film Armonika. Funny, ridiculously gorgeous, and extremely inspiring, get ready to meet your new favourite woman in film.


“My name is Gabrielle, also known as Billoub. I’m 21 and from France! I grew up near Paris, and I now live in Bruxelles for my studies. Growing up I liked drawing, especially drawing comics. I was so obsessed that I was doing it every day, sometimes cutting out pictures from magazines and including them in my stories, and I started using my own drawings and characters later. I guess this is where my will to create my own original stories was born. I quit drawing for a while in high school and when I had to choose what I wanted to study, I realized creating was the only thing that truly
satisfies me. I was interested in drawing but also into cinema and audiovisual media
and I thought that animation was the perfect mix of all that, so this is what I went for, and is what I’m still studying right now!”

Who/what are your inspirations within the film and animation industry?
B: As weird as it sounds, as a filmmaker I’m not very cultivated in cinema, and people are often surprised. I have my own little references: some films and directors that made
me want to animate.                                                                                                                               I’m very interested in what’s very far away from my culture. I like movies that I can’t understand and that leave me with a weird feeling, something
just different, and sometimes a bit creepy. I like being uncomfortable when watching a film because that means it has reached something in my brain and disturbed it.
I could also mention Jan Svankmajer, a Czech director, ‘Alice‘ is one of my
favourite movies, and it is probably my favourite animated films. It just embodies
perfectly what animation can be and how it relates to our inner child. It’s just the
things around you that start moving and living in your imagination. It’s very poetic
and a bit scary – like real old fairy tales!
I also love animation from Asia, especially from Japan, here Koiji Yamamura is probably
the most famous one. I just love how these animations don’t follow the traditional unfolding plots of a movie. I also always loved Japa’s traditional culture and how it is often mixed with that weird craziness and sometimes poetic melancholy. There are a lot of amazing artists from there, and I particularly enjoy watching short films created by animation students from there.

What are your opinions on the current environment for women in the film industry?

B: Obviously, I wish they were more prominent female directors, and that we could see more of their work. I think it’s just like in any creative environment, or anywhere else: we need to show more to work more to prove more. But I think we, as women in film, definitely have a lot to say and we need to support each other. In animation especially there are a few festivals created to promote female directors’ work, and I see so many talented female artists around me! I guess the sexism is way worst for the actresses situation in the film industry. I just wish there were equality and respect and it’s something I can only hope for.
I heard a lot of things about sexism in animation work as well. It just made me so sad
but I wasn’t surprised. It isn’t only the being judged on what you create as a woman,
it’s also the normalized sexism in that small industry – it just has to stop.
Heres a link about the situation. It’s in french but I guess you can translate it easily with google:
What do you think needs to be done to make positive changes and steps forward
in the industry?  

B: Things need to be said, abusers and sexists need to be denounced and they need to
be punished! We just need more men to support there, to say some things are not ok.
Also, I think there should be more female artists and technicians in the audiovisual and
film industry. Equality should be promoted and it starts with education and schools
(for instance there’s an equal amount of girls and boys in my animation class). Also, to
tell girls that it’s ok to have ambition, to raise your voice, to go for creative studies, to
show your inner world!

What inspired your film ‘Armonika’?

B: For my paper cut movie Armonika we had to adapt a tale: ‘The Bremen
Musicians’, the story of four animals leaving a farm to become musicians. In my
version, the four animals are soldiers deserting the war. I liked the opposition between
the chaos of the battle and the peace they can find in music. For the technique, Yuri
Norstein inspired me, he’s a Russian artist that made one of my favourite animated
movies ever, and his use of paper cut is really magical.

A still from ‘Armonika’

How long did it take you to make from concept to the finished product?

B: I think it really took an entire school year. I started looking for ideas during
summer and finished the movie at the end of the school year ten months later. It was
really intense because we had to respect deadlines and finish everything, sound and
mix included.

What was the entire process like?

B: The most complicated part was to fix myself on an idea because I am a
very indecisive person, and when you know that you’ll work on that idea for a year
you want it to be the best you can find, and that’s impossible because there are so
many things you can do. From September to October, I struggled a lot to fix myself,
and when I finally did, I started looking for visual inspirations, to draw from. From
November to December I worked on the storyboard, and then the animatic (the
slightly animated version of the storyboard that helps see how the film will turn out,
how long the plans will last, the first ideas for the sound etc). And then, when the
teachers validated my project, I started animating, stuck in a dark room of my school,
never seeing the sun (I’m exaggerating a bit maybe!), moving my papers frame by
frames, from January till May. I still had a month or less to put everything together
and add the sound.
For my second movie it really was the same process, but building the puppets and
putting everything in place really took a long time as well.

You posted a while back about your film being shown at a film festival – could you
tell me more about that?

B: I was very surprised because it was my very first real movie and I received an email
from a Korean film and music festival – they wanted my movie! I was very honoured to
be part of it, because I love Asian culture and I was happy my movie interested them,
and that people from here could see it on a big screen. My movie talks about
escaping from a conflict with the help of music, and I suppose in a way it echoes the conflicts between some countries.

Do you hope to pursue film as a career?

B: I am actually thinking a lot about it lately. I love creating and I love learning. I think it
would be interesting for me to try other forms of the arts. I also love photography, music
and history. I would like to be able to nourish my creativity with many things to
develop more interesting work. In the end, I do hope I’ll have a career that is related
to movies and cinema because it includes so many different and interesting creative
jobs. I like the idea of a job that helps a project that creates a whole new original
story or universe that you can be part of for a while.

You’re a fantastic artist! How did you get into art and what influenced your
drawing style? 

B: Thank you! I’ve drawn since I was a kid, and my dad is a graphist and an illustrator
and we always use to draw a lot at home and read a lot of comics and books. So I guess
I’ve always been into “art” more or less. My drawing style changes a lot, every day, I
really struggle with finding my very own style and I actually really wonder how you can fix yourself on one… I know that I have been influenced by famous illustrators and
artists that I appreciate, but also by the people I met at school. It’s very interesting
observing how people start their drawings and the technic they use, we are all so
different. I noticed my drawing style can totally change as well after a day only using
my eyes to watch things around me, pictures drawings or paintings. You learn
every day. Changing the technic I use really influenced my style as well. These days I
love using China ink with a paintbrush or a pen as it gives the drawings a sensitive
aspect because of the mistakes you can’t correct and the irregular lines.

Has anything impacted your film making/ life in general? 

B: I’ve always been a very shy person and I’ve always struggled with my mental and
physical health. Creating is one of these things that can make you “get out” of
yourself and also to express yourself when you struggle to do it in other ways.
One of my classmates told me the soldiers in my paper cut movie reminded her of
me, which made me laugh, but I think she was right! I like my characters to be a bit
like me: they don’t speak a lot, they are a bit melancholic and not very
demonstrative…except for the eyes that are here to show there’s a lot going on on
the inside! I kind of have a hard time really speaking about my beliefs and the topics
that affect me in my films, at least not in an indirect way, but I definitely would like to
because that is also what movies are made for. I like the idea that they can a bit disconnected and absurd. My last stop motion short film was about a couple living
the last night of the world, and the idea was to play with how serious the situation is in
opposition with their very neutral reaction. I had a serious depressive episode that
year and I really struggled to finish that movie, I think I couldn’t help showing how I
felt in my characters but also in the general atmosphere of the movie, now it kind of
makes me uncomfortable when I watch it again. When it comes to creating a movie in
an art school you are totally free, you can choose to put a lot of yourself in it or very
little. I think I put a lot of myself in

.I know that feminism is important to you as well! 

B: On feminism, I am still learning and I am not more informed than anyone else, but it is important to me. Because there are too many things happening around me, from the
most common everyday sexism you can find to the most disgusting misogynistic behaviours. I became aware of this at a young age and now it has a
special echo within me. I think it is ok to be angry, it is ok to speak up your voice
about all of this, I think it is ok not to accept certain things. I don’t think there is any
wrong or extreme form of feminism, it’s just about wanting to get rid of all these
ways we all have, boys or girls, to always control, judge and reduce the rights of
someone because of a gender we constructed. I don’t know what word I would put on
this, feminism or something else, but any way we can find to fight against a society of
normalized rape culture, women-shaming(?), and any other sort of conscious or
unconscious oppressions against our sex, is a good thing to me and I would like to
support it as much as I can.

Being from France yourself, what do you think of the stereotype of the ‘French woman’ created by other countries? Do you think it’s harmful or do you see it as accurate? 

B: I knew about the French stereotypes but I’ve never really thought about the one specific to French women. From what I’ve been reading on the internet, the French woman is apparently very rude, hairy, open sexually and with a very high sense of fashion. It just sounds like me! (kidding). I think they are accurate for some people, for some they’re not, they’re just stereotypes.
Even if I do like the idea of the independent beautiful and intelligent French woman
we are supposed to be! I guess that idea has been conveyed by some important
French women in history and movies.

Who are some strong women, famous or not, that have impacted your life? 

B: My family is full of women that have impacted me! Now that I think about it, we are a girl family, among my cousins from both sides (mom and dad) there are only two boys, for eleven girls…I always admired them all. They’re mostly musicians, writers, dancers, a lot of creative, ambitious and interesting people. And strong people as well, life is not always tender and it is to their strength of character that I also aspire. My mom taught me the respect I deserved as a girl, that you can be sensitive and strong, independent, that you can do so many things. I do have some woman in art, literature, cinema and
music that inspire me as well. I think about Shirley Manson, Debbie Harry,
Elisabeth Badinter, Virginie Despentes, Hannah Arendt, Niki de Saint Phalle, Claude Cahun, Sofia Coppola, Kiki de Montparnasse, Lady Gaga… I find a new feminine
inspiration every day, in the girls I meet in my life, that are multiple, complex, creative
and generous and it makes me very enthusiastic.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

B: Stop thinking, go for it!

Where is your favourite place in the world and why?

B: Honestly, even for that one answer, I couldn’t settle. I need to move and any place
makes me crazy if I stay for too long. So I would say, any place in the world where
you can find the sea, the air is a bit cold and foggy, and there are not too many
people around.

Where would you love to visit and why? 

B: I would love to travel to many places, especially where I could visit the remains of
civilizations whose art and architecture fascinate me: Peru, India, Italy, Japan…

What are your five favourite songs?

B: (It was so complicated for me to chose only five oh my god)
These songs are special to me for different reasons, or I listened to them way too
much, or they talk a bit about me, or I just get this special feeling when I start
listening to them. I tried to put one from all my favourite Artists but that was very
Subterranean Homesick Alien by Radiohead
This is Hardcore by Pulp
Cherry Lips by Garbage
Starman by David Bowie
Moving by Supergrass

What five things could you not live without?

B: Probably my phone, coffee, music, crisps, and a comfortable pair of boots.

You can find Billoub’s vimeo and tumblr here:

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