There’s an earnest, smart filmmaking brain in the young head of Billimarie Robinson, whose diverse short films over the years have perhaps allowed her to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders through creative expression. When we first interacted a couple of years ago, having seen and reviewed Corrugated Hearts, I swore to myself I would one day ask the writer, director, producer what was indeed channeling through her veins when she conceived the idea for that short film. Here was my chance.
Our nerd-esque conversation on films firstly went to our respective childhoods – the films that stood out when we were kids. My first strong memory was E.T., which Robinson found nostalgically amusing. “I grow up in L.A. next to the street where they filmed the infamous bike scene.”. Wow. So what else did she love growing up? “I was a huge Dead Poets Society fan, I would watch it almost all summer. I can’t talk about that film without getting emotional about it.”.
“And The Nightmare Before Christmas.”, the filmmaker continues passionately, “That is huge, there’s this darkness, it’s like a starry night.”. We both agreed that you can tell a lot about a person from what they watched as a child. “Those films are bleak, de-saturated, but passionate and intricate. With The Nightmare Before Christmas I really love in-camera effects, it really does not age, do it well, and it carries on forever. There’s a beauty that comes in rigging things, and physically sculpting, moving, finding intricate and creative ways of having something interact – not just the elements on film, but the camera and the viewer itself.”.
Robinson is also a huge Matrix fan, “My parents did not know the level of violence, otherwise they would not let me watch it.”. Even at the end of our lengthy discussion, Robinson and I were still rambling on about the filmmakers we admire. “Park Chan-wook, famous for the Vengeance trilogy (Old Boy, Lady Vengeance, Mr. Vengeance). He’s consistently good, but can also navigate different worlds.” I chip in, confessing Lady Vengeance is one of my favorites, that it reinvigorates the revenge genre. “Yes. The revenge film is done to death. I love that Lady Vengeance took place in the winter, with the snow, and every single aspect of it is pushing for this ultimate climax.”.
At some point we did actually talk about three of Robinson’s short films, two of which are showcased at the Femme Filmmakers Festival. “I really appreciate you reaching out to me.” she says, “I remember the first time I read your review of Corrugated Hearts, one of the most gorgeous experiences, having a compete stranger tap into your mindset. It meant a lot to me.”. I added that I strongly feel discovering new short films is so rewarding, I mean, there is so much you can do in short films you wouldn’t see in feature films. That’s part of the beauty of shorts.
Corrugated Hearts, were people have boxes for heads essentially, has so many depths of interpretation – melancholy, a love story, the TV culture, even a whiff of artificial intelligence. “I had met a musician who wanted me to create a music video for him. I just graduated from college undergrad, and had kind of established the practice of being a freelance filmmaker, camera woman, editor. But, we disagreed on the actors, I did not want to compromise. There is something very intimate about the characters in the film, the actors had box heads on, and they could not see in those things.”. That was Robinson’s opportunity, to take what could have been a music video, to a short film. “I took the concept and ran. I was given leave to explore the inner workings of my own mind. Corrugated Hearts was a culmination of one of the best summers of my life.”.
“I really think there is something painfully beautiful how we, as humans or creatures, operate in life. To take notions of what it meant to be alive, and the troublesome aspects of life like heartbreak, or 3.0 upgrades.”. You could almost see these people as having disabilities, I added. “Yeah. I think of the X-Men, when there is a divide between those that want to be normalized, and those staunchly against any radical changes. I was drawn to my main character, he was non-conformist, and you could tell it was not just a choice. For him to go into that upgrade, that was how strong his love was. I have no idea where the title came from, but it hit me like a train.”.
On a very different spectrum and structure, was Sugar Water. A bi-racial kind of monologue, which must have been genuine diary entries, or at least Robinson’s thoughts finally tuned. “I created that when I was a senior in high school. I internally cringe, but appreciate that is where I was, and got to express it. I went to a high school, some would call liberal, instead of studying things like economics or government, we studied racism, sexism, classism, homophobia – the works. I was being confronted with things beyond my own teenage angst.”.
There are a lot of issues with race, gender, sexuality, and sometimes you do see something so obvious, and you’re like ‘Oh yeah, that is the way to look at it.’ – like the sugar water mix. “You confront head-on people that blatantly believe we are made up of blocks of sand that are so different from each other. So I wrote a lot about my experiences as a multiracial racial person. I quit basketball, and joined the new film program. My teacher pushed me to always be going deeper, the different ways to utilize film. I sent the film out, and it got awards after awards. I got to go to awards ceremonies, meet interesting people. At one festival I met the director of Juno, Jason Reitman. He had seen the film – Wow, he saw Sugar Water – and he has a biracial daughter. I remember shaking his hand, and him saying to me casually ‘I hope my daughter doesn’t go through the same sort of thing’ – I was so taken aback!.”.
Such creative pieces, and with You Are* (unfortunately not showcasing at #FemmeFilmFest) there was an even broader range of Robinson’s filmic skills. A simple walk and talk short film, with our female filmmaker in front of the phone camera too, as the screen splits into three. Don’t you think it would look great on IMAX? I half-joke. “That’d be great! Or if someone set up three iPhones in a gallery somewhere, and played them on three different walls. Wow, we think very very similar.”.
So did you write this, or was it spontaneous? Or both? “Yeah, I got up and just started recording. I had no kind of narrative. I spent about five years, on and off, traveling with my typewriter typing free poetry for strangers. I lived in all these different places, I was in this very anti-capitalistic mindset. I really wanted to confront art as something that is not rewarding, in the same way as eating or walking. I wrote a manifesto ‘Imagination Is The New Work’. I was trying to express these things. You Are* was one of many attempts. It’s so hard to even talk about. I can distance myself from whatever mood I was in with the other films, but I am just coming out of the space I was operating with You Are*. Ninety percent of the population are not going to get it, and that’s fine, I don’t care about that. I care about the one or ten percent, people like you, who can tap into similar realities.”.
So does Billimarie Robinson have a take on the women directors of today? “I occupy a space that is not Hollywood, not really narrative, not feature – I am on the outskirts, on the fringe of the fringe. My perspective is going to be very different to those navigating Hollywood in the feature length scene. I don’t want to say much about that as I do not have claims to them. I am so in love with everyone I have met on this journey, a multitude of women who are doing it, and doing it well. I could gush. There are a lot of barriers, and nobody is going to deny that. There is a brilliance in comradery that we don’t often talk about. There is a sense of belonging. I am extremely optimistic. As dark as I can be I have to believe there are little pockets of light where we can operate on the same wavelength.”.