Famor Botero graduated from Full Sail’s Film degree program on a Wednesday. Three days later, he traded in his graduation robes for a suit and attended the premiere of Take Me Home, his first film, a feature-length documentary about Orlando’s homeless population. Since then, Famor has gone on to make other documentary films with the aim of giving a voice to the voiceless, but back in 2012 he was just a new student trying to find his place in the local art scene.
“I was networking from the very beginning,” he laughs. “If there was an event related to art happening in Orlando, I was there. People got to know me as a filmmaker before I even made my first movie.”
At the time, he was living in downtown Orlando, a neighborhood known for its burgeoning arts culture and as an attractive home base option for young professionals looking to escape the suburbs. But amid the art galleries, wine bars, and high rise condos, Famor noticed something else: a rising homeless population.
“I’m from Colombia, a third world country where it’s very common to see people living on the street due to the economy. I couldn’t understand why the same problem would exist to such a degree in the United States,” he says. “Looking around, it became clear to me that this was the film I was meant to make.”
Famor joined forces with local organizations and educators, including Beth Davalos, a social worker who runs Seminole County’s Families in Transition program. The project was meant to be a short film, but soon expanded into a full-length feature as more people became involved. Over the next two years, Famor interviewed dozens of homeless men, women, and children with the intention of bringing their individual stories to a wider audience.
“I wanted to highlight their humanity,” he says. “These are real people with real lives and stories, yet they’re often treated with contempt or as if they were invisible. It’s a terrible way to live, especially for people who want what we all want: to be seen and acknowledged in a loving way.”
The film went on to be featured at the Ola Film Festival and the Global Peace Film Festival, where it was well-received by critics and casual viewers alike.
Famor never set out to become an activist, but once he started, he couldn’t stop. In the years since Take Me Home debuted, his subsequent films have dealt with subjects ranging from immigration reform (2014’s Los Ocho) to chronic childhood illness (2015’s ProjectMAD). His latest project is The Colombian Ignominy, which delves into the harmful effects strict extradition laws have on the Colombian justice system.
“The film follows three individuals — one poor, one wealthy, and one highly educated — who have each been wrongfully accused of crimes related to the drug trade. Because of the nature of the extradition laws, it becomes extremely difficult to guarantee a fair trial,” says Famor.
“Obviously, being Colombian myself means this work is very close to me. This project has not only allowed me to reconnect with my roots and shed light on the need for reform, but also to be able to provide an opportunity for other Colombians looking to break into filmmaking. I learned so much from the crew and everyone involved,” he adds.
Famor’s inspiration comes from a willingness to tackle big questions he struggles with in order to seek a better understanding of how to affect change. In turn, he hopes to bring that same sense of understanding and compassion to his audience. It’s not easy work, and there’s a lot of pressure that comes along with a subject trusting him to get their story right. But Famor says he can’t see himself doing anything else.
“It’s a tremendous responsibility, and I always try to keep that in the back of my mind when I’m working. I use that pressure to push through. The world will try to break you, but persistence is the key to finding your vision and your voice.”