Photographed by Jonas Yuan
It's early morning in Los Angeles and Italian film director Gabriele Fabbro has just received his morning cup of coffee. "Okay," he tells me, "now I'm ready."
Upon meeting Gabriele for the first time you wouldn't know that you were meeting a real life magician, but after a few minutes of conversation you will quickly catch up. He smiles a lot; it's a part of his charm. He also has a way of speaking through his eyes. When speaking to Gabriele it's as if he is envisioning whatever he is saying in front of him; an enchanting quality which makes you more intrigued to know more of what he speaks of, to see what he's seeing.
Gabriele recently directed a short film entitled 8 (2018), which I had the honor of seeing during the premie at Warner Bros last year, as a part of his graduation ceremony at the film school New York Film Academy, in Burbank.
He has now sipped a few sips of his coffee and is talking about his film 8 as if he's been awake for hours. He tells me a story from his childhood of a bar he regularly visited in a little town in Italy, together with his father. It's as if he's back in the bar when he paints the picture of the bar which made a great impact on him.
"There was one pool table where me and my dad used to play, and the other pool table was surrounded by old people. They were not talking to each other; just really into the game, while me and my dad were just playing around. Whenever I looked back [at them], I could see their faces judging us because we weren't following the rules like them; we weren't playing seriously you know. The game of pool is very serious, so I'm pretty sure they were judging us all the time, but at the same time it was funny because every time we went there, the same group of people were still there playing. It was as if they never went anywhere, you know? I've always had that image in my mind, so I think that was the start of 8."
The film is a very experimental film, where Gabriele decided to push the film crew to experiment with the film technique, the acting, the cinematography, and everything in between. He tells me that they went so far with experimenting with the film that the fans on location became a part of their film equipment, which is why there's a credit at the end of the film entitled fan operator.
While watching the short film 8 you get a sense of darkness and suspense; you're intrigued and curios of what's going to happen at the end of the story. However, to call it a thriller, a drama, romance, horror, or any other genre would be all but correct. It's a recurring feeling one gets when watching a film made by Gabriele; the feeling of not being able to place the film in a genre. It's gone so far that, when watching his work, the audience don't watch them as a regular piece of work anymore. They don't see it as a film with a genre, it's simpler than that: it's a movie by Gabe.
When I mention this to Gabriele he laughs as if I had just told him a joke. "It's a funny thing," he tells me, "because I see the genre, that's the thing. 8 [the film] is sport and romance. That's it you know, because at the end of the day it's a love story. Yes, there's a lot of action and suspense, but I consider that more of a technique than a genre. If you think about Hitchcock; he was the God of suspense, but that's not a genre. Thriller is a genre, and suspense is a feeling you get from a movie that you have watched. By delaying something that you know is going to happen, results in the audience wanting that thing to happen. It keeps the audience at the edge of their seats, waiting; that is a feeling, not a genre."
He laughs a little and goes back to the remark of him not having a genre for his movies. Since it was mentioned a few minutes ago, he admits he has been reflecting on why that is, and tells me he has reached a conclusion. According to Gabriele, he believes his films feels genre-less because the storylines points toward realism, but the shots he chooses in his films points more toward magical realism. In recent years he has fallen in love with magical realism, which is something you can see in almost all his films he has done the past four years. He goes on and tells me it's a trait he can't control, that it's just the way he sees things nowadays. "If a car passes by, I don't just want to shoot it with a tripod and see the camera passing by; I really need to find another angle and the car has to do something unusual, like fly [laughs] I don't think I could be able to do something plain and realistic in that sense."
The short film 8 is a perfect example of how he views cinema. It is indeed a story about two pool players, but at the same time it looks so magical; making you fall in love with not only their love for each other, but their love for pool. When watching a film directed by Gabriele, it feels like we're leaving the modern time and entering the world of his mind. You can't really put words to what you see in his films; but you feel it. Gabriele agrees with that reasoning and tells me that it goes all the way back to the 1960s, but in general the French New Wave. There's a big emphasize on how they were all the pioneers of blending reality with something magical. Listening to Gabriele speak about this topic is such a rare feeling; he is filled with so much glow and admiration, as if he is explaining a delicious dish he recently tried at a French restaurant.
"I think that's the way movies should be done, because at the end of the day I'm not a believer of people who say that movies are truth, art is truth... Bullshit. Art is a lie: movies are lies. Everything is fake in movies. Leonardo DiCaprio, when he draws [in movies] he's not drawing; there's somebody else drawing. They're all liars, so why do we need to be pretentious and say the movie is about the truth? Schindler's List (1993), look at that; it's a true topic, but that's not what really happened. It's all manipulated in order for the audience to have a reaction to the movie. That's my thought of it."
He is beginning to get worked up by speaking about realism in cinema; as if he is personally offended about the modern idea that movies are best when they are as realistic as possible. We need magic, love, and fairytales in cinema according to Gabriele, it's important to him. We are missing magic in the world, and we need to bring it back with the aid of cinema. "We need to dream, and I think movies, they need to make you dream. It's not escapism or a lie, it's just [what] humans are meant to feel. We've been doing it [dreaming] for centuries, even in the past. The first people on earth, they always told stories that were not real and I think we need to keep that. It's such a beautiful thing to just fall in love with an ideal character. It's really the matter of taking a realistic scenario and making that thing special; sometimes it's the camera, sometimes it's the characters, but it has to feel special. I think we need that."
When watching his short film 8 we are met by a lot of magic; not only in the visuals, but also in the characters. He explains that the magic lies less in the love between the characters, and more in the strong attraction the two characters feel for each other.
"You know when you don't fall in love, but you feel so much attraction to a person? What I really wanted to explore is what it is that really drives these two people; their curiosity for playing pool. They're so passionate about playing pool, and that's why they fall in love with each other. He falls in love with her because she's so great at what she does, and because she loves what she does. She does the same at the end when she realizes that he's not just a buffone - not a hustler - but actually devoted to what he loves. Pool is what brings them together. I think it's interesting to talk about this because it happened in real life to me, and I know so many people where there's something else that brings them together."
The stories that Gabriele prefers to watch always go a little bit toward surrealism. He believes that learning from other movies is the key ingredient to achieving any form of success in the film industry. We go back to talk about the making of his short film and how his unique thought process has helped him with his filmmaking career.
He is incredible quick with his film references, as if he is constantly thinking about names of influences of his; a list he's memorized just in case someone asks him about them. He goes on and tells me how the film 8 wouldn't have been possible for him to make if he hadn't watched the works of Leone, Fellini, and Bartolucci. "The more you study, the more you watch movies; the more you're going to find out what to take from, and also how to overcome that. For example, I really wanted to push the boundaries with 8, but if I hadn't watched all of those movies beforehand then how could I know what I could do to improve the pool thematic? It's a must. You cannot be anyone in this industry if you don't see as much as you can."
It's interesting to listen to him share his thoughts about cinema for when he speaks it's as if he has just figured out the secret ingredient to the Coca Cola recipe, or found Frodo's ring, and is for the first time sharing it with someone. He has finished his coffee at this point, so now he is fully awake.
"To be able to be a great filmmaker the priority is to watch a lot of movies," he begins to tell me. "You can be born with a sensibility to be a film director for an example, but honestly it's not enough. There's too many people working, wanting to make movies. Nowadays you can just pick up the phone and create your own movie, but the problem is that you have so much competition in LA, as well as in the rest of the world. In the future anyone is going to be able to buy a 4K camera, shoot a movie, and send it to film festivals. You can even do this even if you don't have a billion dollars; you can do the work, but that's still not enough though. Sensibility is not enough; you need to study. You need to know what has been done previously in order to be able to create something new. I hate when people say that they have a new idea, but then you see that Bartolucci has done it already, so is it new? No, it's not new, so you need to do your work and study. Plus, it's such a beautiful thing you know; I feel like I sound depressed for [saying] this, but I love watching movies even if I'm by myself. It's like you're having a relationship with the movies. If you don't have an intimate connection to a film, it's failed."
We are suddenly in a conversation about film director Martin Scorsese and his abilities as a filmmaker. Scorsese is 77 years old in a few weeks, as well as one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of cinema; yet he is still growing as a film director. I mention to Gabriele that it isn't considered a flaw to still be growing as a filmmaker, so whenever he is praised for his talents he shouldn't object with the fact that he is still growing, still finding his voice. He's blushing at this point, it's evident, but this time he doesn't object.
We have now reached a point where we've both settled on the fact that Gabriele is only 23 years old, yet has already managed to found his own voice, his own style; magic realism. He agrees with this observation, and shares how he managed to come to terms with his inner voice.
"It's a matter of alot of factors," he begins to tell me. "On a personal level I think it's really important to be a listener rather than being a talker or a communicator. I know that many people would disagree with me because they all say that the key, on set for example, is communication."
English isn't his first language so he sometimes has to stop mid sentence and ask if he is using a word correctly. "My high school teacher once said a phrase that I have ever since used as a motto; is that how you say it, a motto? Something you go back to."
After receiving reassurance that he is using the word motto correctly, he regains his confidence to continue the dialogue.
"Well," he begins, "she said that a great director is a great observer; someone that observes what's around, and honestly it's true. I find myself doing that all the time; there's no moment where I don't do that. I will never be able to write something without remembering something I've seen before; if it's a person, item, anything. That's definitely one thing, then for sure just do as much as you can. It goes back to communication again. We all want that director who comes to set and knows exactly what they want, that's easy. If the DoP asks a question, that's ultimately your job; to tell everyone what you want. So if you're not sure, or if you're just insecure... I know it's tough, but then you need to be open with the crew and tell them like it is. You need to tell them that 'honestly, this is an experiment to me. I don't know all the answers, I don't know if this is going to work, but I want to try to do it.' I think if you surround yourself with people who are creative, it'll be fun. In order to try to direct, you just need to direct; there's no other way. Even if you're insecure you need to do it, otherwise you'll be stuck. It's not like I knew everything I was doing on the set [of 8]. There were moments where I was like 'let's try another thing because this one doesn't work.' I think people are willing to help. If you are open with them and just admit that, no, I don't know exactly how this shot's going to go, or how the objective of the character is going to turn out, but you say 'let's try,' then I think people are going to want to try together with you. By doing so you're together with them discovering something new, and then you go from there... Ego is the worst thing you can have as a director."
Besides capturing the love story between two pool players, Fabbro kept himself extremely busy last year by adding another project to his reel; the feature length documentary film Quo Vadis 2020. For 70 minutes we get to follow friends to Gabriele, filmmakers as well as actors, who during a trip to Italy begin to question their career paths. He has kept the documentary on the low since he returned from the trip back home, and only focusing on promoting his film 8. However, the excitement over his documentary film is something he can't contain anymore, and all of the sudden he is breaking down how the documentary came to life, as well as how he managed to add magic realism to his non-scripted documentary film.
"Italy," he says with so much pride it's contagious, "is a surrealistic country. We didn't have an outline, so the interviews and the way we shot it is meant to provoke the magic realism in you. There's a sequence [in the documentary] of Venice that is flooded. It was one of the worst floods in the history of Venice, this was back in 2018 in October. It was a flood where the water was up to the knees. It was crazy because people were sitting in restaurants eating like nothing had happened, with the water up to their knees. So when you see those shots the realism kicks in, because in your mind you are thinking 'wait a second, if I was in that situation I wouldn't do that, I would be worried.' I think Italy offers a lot of those surrealistic elements, and I think we captured a lot of that in that sequence. It's way more grounded though; it's not as magical as 8. Instead of having control of the characters, I had control of the visuals, and that's how I brought the magic to the documentary."
Quo Vadis 2020 is in the final stages of post-production, awaiting to get the score finalized. Cinematique Magazine has however received the honor to give you the very first glance of the upcoming documentary film.
Below is the first look inside Quo Vadis 2020 directed by Gabriele Fabbro, enjoy.