This fascination with cinema quickly grew into an interest in filmmaking: “I had a small video camera at home, and I was mainly playing with visual effects, since when I was first discovering movies I was amazed by 'Jurassic Park' and all of the ...
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." — Maya Angelou
To create film is to create truth. Filmmaking is an art form that completely immerses audiences, sweeping viewers away into a new reality: the reality of the people around them, and the realities of people they’ve never even met.
For Francisco Cabrera-Feo, this reality is his own — a story of empathy and understanding. An underlying mission to create art that speaks for people who have struggled and fought for the lives they want to live and the freedoms they want to enjoy.
Cabrera-Feo is a 19-year-old film student at the FSU College of Motion Picture Arts. Before coming to FSU, Francisco had already built up an impressive portfolio as a fledging director in high school. At 17, he crowdfunded a short film titled “Revolving Child,” which explored a young girl’s childhood issues as she explores her family home.
The success of the film opened many doors for Cabrera, including a Student Emmy Award and an invitation to the AXE Collective, a program that connects young creators with professionals that offer guidance and mentorship to an exclusive group of students (Francisco is joined by only two other members of the film category). At 19, Cabrera has directed several short films, competed in film festivals and attracted attention from the media and prominent members of the industry. With acclaimed director Mark Duplass (Togetherness, Room 104, The League) as a mentor, Francisco has reached a level of prominence and support that is rare for such a young storyteller.
“It’s definitely not the norm to have a first-year BFA student who already has relationships with important filmmakers like Mark Duplass,” said Brenda Mills, Festivals Coordinator at the FSU College of Motion Picture Arts. “He could have gone straight into the industry but a college education is important to him and his family. He’s had to turn opportunities down because they conflicted with his college schedule.”
“It’s absolutely opened more doors,” said Cabrera. “I think more people knew about the success of the film than the film itself. It’s weird because if you look at it, "Revolving Child" doesn’t have as many views as my other projects, but I think that smaller audience cared more since they were willing to help fund it. We were so young, and we’re still so young and people really shouldn’t have trusted us with their money and they did and it turned out well; it’s such an exciting thing but sometimes I do worry that I’m defined by ["Revolving Child"], and everything else is compared to that.”
Early attention can be a blessing and a curse for a director in Francisco’s position, but as his existing projects continue to gain attention, Cabrera is working towards using his success as a platform for more work. “It’s scary because I didn’t expect this kind of response,” said Cabrera. “One of the first big things was Ashton Kutcher posting our film on Facebook, it was a small short we made but going from that to competing in high school and seeing this great reaction to everything we made was fantastic, but also something I feel like I wasn’t ready for.”
“Early attention can jade you,” said Mills. “You think it’s always going to be that easy and you lose the ability to stick it out when things get harder. But I don’t think that’s going to be a problem for Francisco. One, he’s got the work ethic; he’s going to do what he needs to do. Two, he’s got a voice and he’s going to keep refining it. All this early exposure just means he’ll graduate with a fatter contact list than most people his age.”
Francisco’s early success had the potential to negatively influence the stories that he wants to tell, but he points to his upbringing as an immigrant from Venezuela as an emotional core for his art.
“Early on, my brother got a job at a movie theater, so I would go the movies all the time and from 11a.m.- 6p.m. I would go to work with him and watch three movies back to back to back, just taking it all in and learning English through movies.”
This fascination with cinema quickly grew into an interest in filmmaking: “I had a small video camera at home, and I was mainly playing with visual effects, since when I was first discovering movies I was amazed by ‘Jurassic Park’ and all of the effects in movies. I think it wasn’t until high school that I realized that there was a group of people like me, who just wanted to make stuff. People who really just wanted to put stuff on video and have people watch it and share it.”
Aside from the career opportunities he’s gained, Francisco sees his increased exposure as a creative hurdle that influences his current projects. “I’m failing now more than ever. In kind of an artistic way I feel like I should’ve failed more earlier, because now that I’m older I’m always thinking, ‘How do I top this?’ You become your own critic and your own skeptic.”
Despite increased pressure and expectations, Francisco remains committed to developing new films as frequently as possible. Most recently, he wrote, edited and directed "Wear My Skin" a nine minute short film sharing the story of a couple grappling with body image issues as they sleep together for the first time. The film is a strong indication of Francisco’s current vision — an honest and vulnerable portrayal of the issues young people face.
“I like the idea of what a character is doing when nobody’s watching,” said Cabrera. “That’s always something I want to do. ‘Revolving Child’ is the girl alone in her house, ‘Let Go’ is this kid alone in a garage, and then ‘Wear My Skin’ is two people who feel alone, who are alone in this bedroom just having a conversation. It’s something I want to continue, the intimacy and the specificity of their conversation. It’s something that I want to move towards.”
Like his previous work, "Wear My Skin" was met with warm reception, including an official selection from the Vero Beach Film Festival.
“When I showed the film at the Vero Beach Film Festival, I couldn’t watch it. It was the first time it was shown in front of an audience, and when it was on screen I was just covering my face. That had never happened before, so it’s something that I want to do more, but I also want to make sure that I can put a different lens on it so that I can still objectively look at my own work and criticize it.”
As Francisco continues to develop his skillset working alongside other filmmakers, he’s realized the power and flexility that collaboration offers.
"Wear My Skin" also introduces an element that Francisco recently learned to embrace. Like in his other works, Latino actors are prominently featured and the struggles of young Latinos are put at the forefront of his projects. “When I was doing interviews at TIFF, everyone was focusing on me as a Latino filmmaker, which made me angry.
At first I didn’t get it, I thought, ‘I’m not a Latino filmmaker, I’m a filmmaker!’ Later I realized that this is actually a big deal, the fact that I’m a Latino and that I’m an immigrant, it’s not something that we see a lot. It was a growing experience, learning to own it and learning that being Latino is part of who I am as a director, the Latino experience is a huge part of the stories I want to tell.”
As Francisco continues to develop his skillset working alongside other filmmakers, he’s realized the power and flexility that collaboration offers. Most recently, Francisco has worked with his fellow film students including Chris Violette, an aspiring writer and director.
“I think we have very different styles, but after the first couple of shoots we did I realized that his style is very easy to immerse yourself in on set because it’s so real,” said Violette. “A lot of the characters he writes are written like regular people, the situations that he conveys in his writing are very relatable, and that writing and his demeanor on set really drew me in when we were shooting.”
Although most of his portfolio consists of films that are almost entirely independent, Francisco has come to see the value of collaborating and opening up his creative process to others.
“When you start, you’re the only person that believes in yourself. I didn’t have anyone that cared about my films. I was making them for myself, to myself, by myself. I was writing, directing, shooting and editing everything. I think it’s a growing process, I don’t think I’m there yet. I don’t know how I feel about letting someone edit my film, and it’s part of the ego of directing. To direct a film is egotistical because you’re saying that your vision and your idea needs to be seen, but if I know that someone can help make my work better, I’ll learn to let go and give it to them. I’m a better director now because I don’t have to worry about lighting or sound, I can focus on the actors, which is my biggest love. I had to realize that if I don’t shoot it and direct it, I can focus on performances. And if I can focus on performances, I can make the film better.”
Francisco Cabrera-Feo talking with an actress on set. He's expressed working with actors as his biggest love in filmmaking.
(Photo: Courtesy of Francisco Cabrera-Feo)
“It’s important for me to own my craft. I try to model a lot of what I do after Mark Duplass. He produces sixteen movies in a year because he wants to see others do well, and I want to see my casts and crews do well. I want others to grow up with me, because growing up alone is really sad. Going through all the Emmy stuff and festival stuff alone, it would’ve been so much better to go out there with my whole crew and my whole cast. I knew that I was there because of the people that had helped me, and being aware of all that is key for me.”
In an industry where exposure and attention can make or break careers, Francisco’s own experiences have molded his dedication to art and integrity. To him, to create a film is to share an experience that others would usually never be exposed to.
“I feel like I don’t know how to do anything else, and I feel like I can’t turn it off. I’m thinking about storytelling all the time. Filmmaking is the only thing I can imagine doing because if I can make people feel how I felt when I need movies, then I’ve done my job. When I was 10 and I had no friends and I watched those movies and I didn’t feel alone. If I can make someone else feel that, why would I want to do anything else?”
Watch Francisco's films here:
"Wear My Skin"
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