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Q&A: 'Fille' Director Belle Smith

by Violet Conroy on 3 September 2021

To mark the release of Fille, Belle Smith talks about her love of the Chanel aesthetic, what Disney movies taught her about being a woman, and the perks of being both behind and in front of the camera.

To mark the release of Fille, Belle Smith talks about her love of the Chanel aesthetic, what Disney movies taught her about being a woman, and the perks of being both behind and in front of the camera.

Violet Conroy: How did you first get into fashion filmmaking? 

Belle Smith: When I was around 14 or 15 years old I was living in Finland for a couple of years because of my dad’s work. I’ve always been a very artistic person but living in Europe, going through my teens and quitting a sport was a transformative time. It was at this age I finally did what I feel like I was naturally good at, so I was finally true to myself. I never wore makeup and had no fashion sense. I started making videos and that’s when I kind of allowed myself to experiment with all of that stuff.

In a month my YouTube had 20,000 people watching which was weird and cool at the time! I literally stopped focusing on school, which was always my biggest concern, and made a video basically every week for a year and a half. They were mock commercials, fashion films (with brands I now have formally worked with which is the coolest thing ever) and arty, experimental videos. I found so much joy watching the shows online and figuring out the fashion industry through the internet during 2013.

The start of film school in 2015 is when I remember fashion film really taking off in my eyes and everything clicked. I realised, after probably pushing it away because I think narrative work was the more obvious route to pursue, that fashion film is what I can intuitively do so well. Why not embrace it now? I love it so much. It’s been a process of not overthinking and just letting yourself make things you want, regardless of how much perceived intellectual weight other people might see in it. To my surprise, a lot of the videos I was worried what my parents and other people thought of had received such kind words and inspired people, which makes me feel like I’m doing something okay! 

Belle Smith 'Fille'
I get frustrated and interested by the fact that, when women are written about or depicted, it’s a lot about falling in love. - Belle Smith
Belle Smith 'Fille'

VC: Which filmmakers or artists have had the biggest influence on you? 

BS: Spike Jonze, Bo Burhman, Greta Gerwig and Tim Burton are all modern filmmakers that really inspire me. There is something so honest, childlike and badass about everything Spike Jonze creates that makes me very happy. I love his work so much because he is a filmmaker that doesn’t just do proper Hollywood films. In a weird way that feels more authentic and in this day and age, more relatable and inspiring. I of course love all the heroes and pillars of film, but they are the people that I constantly go back to because they get me inspired about the process (along with their product being incredible). My inspirations are pretty standard and traditional because that’s where I come from… Andy Warhol is also someone I have found a lot of inspiration in and am really interested in his life and character.

VC: How did you come up with the concept for the film? 

BS: I had sent Nick Knight a handful of ideas that were super simple. He found a common thread of movement in three of the ideas. That’s when we decided capturing fashion in movement, on something and in a way that possibly hasn’t been explored a ton before, would be the perfect little concept to explore for a fashion film. I’ve always thought about the 'how will this get made' before anything else because I’ve made videos on my own for so long – that's why I gravitate towards simplicity and the camera just looking in on simple action.

VC: What is it about girlhood and womanhood that intrigues you? 

BS: I find the whole process of who you were as a child, a teen and then an adult woman very interesting. It’s like you have yourself as a child, you lose it to insecurity in puberty, and then you blossom. I also like that sometimes, it can be the exact opposite for another person. I get frustrated and interested by the fact that, when women are written about or depicted, it’s a lot about falling in love. That’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. Women haven’t had the easiest time being able to just be (I know men have different struggles in this area as well), be good at something, love their life and do that without having this subconscious paranoia of 'well this doesn’t mean anything if I don’t have a husband or successful partnership or marriage.' It’s weird how much it is ingrained in us, even though we hear this complaint all the time and it sounds very clichéd and annoying, but it’s something we girls carry with us!

VC: Tell me a bit about the clothes, and how the overall aesthetic and mood of Chanel influenced the film?

BS: Chanel has always been at the centre of what I really love about fashion. As a child I was always drawn to French things, even though I’m not French. I’m a mix of a million different things. I changed my name at three years old from Victoria to Belle after seeing Beauty and The Beast. I was always incredibly intense, quiet and boyish as a child.

On reflection, not only do I adore the clothes and visuals Chanel creates, at the heart of the brand as well is the French Woman, the strength. As stupid as it sounds, the Disney movie kind of showed this girl who was smart, unique and driven and that was just someone I wanted to be like. Chanel is timeless, tomboy, femme, and strong. It’s everything I love, hope to be and maybe have always had in me. 

VC: I know you’ve lived in a variety of places during your life – Los Angeles, New York, London, Singapore and Finland. How has this influenced your view of the world and the films that you make?

BS: Living in Finland and traveling through Europe really opened my eyes to fashion and art. As a kid I grew up in Illinois, and art wasn’t really on the streets and in the soul of that town like it was around Europe. I had no track record while living abroad, so exploring and feeling so small in this way helped me experiment more and realise that all the insecurity a small town can lend you is depressing and such a waste of time.

Living in Singapore was impactful because there is such beauty and order there. I think about it all the time. Singapore is where I found my work ethic in school. I also had this weird fascination as a seven-year-old to learn Chinese when I was in Illinois. I spent a chunk of time 'trying' to read a copy of Gone With The Wind my parents had in Chinese. I got to learn a little bit in school there, which I found to be a really artistic and gruelling experience that kind of reminds me of filmmaking. I love it. It’s this weird pursuit of perfection that I find really exciting. Asia influenced me in that way. Hard work is really fun. I'm not too afraid of it… If I’m being optimistic. 

VC: What’s next for you as a filmmaker?

BS: I want to keep making fashion films, advertisements and little personal short films. Approaching narrative filmmaking in a way that feels good to me and tells a bit more of a story, but not in the way I feel like my parents or teachers would think – my own way. Little stories... maybe a collection of short stories.

All of my favourite movies centre around mental health and the individual, so I feel like that’s the world where I predict I’ll land. I want to explore more work on camera as well because that’s how I fell in love with film and filmmaking, being behind and in front of the camera at the same time. I have grown my love of directing and I want to explore that itch I have to work in front of the camera in a way that feels authentic to me (because I am not a trained actor).

Belle Smith 'Fille'
Belle Smith 'Fille'
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