GEIA DE VERA filipino gen z cinematographer cannes film festival

How A Filipino Gen Z Cinematographer Made Her Way To the 2024 Cannes Film Festival

From chickens to Cannes.

Who could have known that a young cinematographer would head to Cannes one year after graduating college?

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Geia de Vera is remarkably self-assured. Not at all in a haughty, narcissistic way, but in that distinct way found in people who know their capabilities inside and out. A cinematographer and Communication graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University, Geia has been involved in media and film for a long time, and she just got a major break in her burgeoning film career.

GEIA DE VERA filipino gen z cinematographer cannes film festival

As the cinematographer for Arvin Belarmino’s short film Radikals, Geia spent twelve days in France earlier this May for the 77th Cannes Film Festival, a stunning feat for an up-and-coming filmmaker. Radikals was selected for the La Semaine de la Critique of Festival de Cannes, or Critics’ Week, a section of the film festival that showcases films from emerging filmmakers all over the world.

This short film was her first true foray into professional filmmaking, and it was as thrilling as it was nerve-wracking. In an interview with NYLON Manila, the 24-year old talks about her experience at the prestigious film festival, standing her ground, proving herself, and holding onto the dream.


Picked by Arvin Belarmino himself, the young Geia de Vera’s work reached his team through mutual friends in the industry, and he believed she would be able to execute his vision. Armed with the technical know-how Radikals is described as a film about “A young rookie from a bizarre chicken-dance (bakte) group who faces a heckler after being the worst dancer at a performance—leading him to a series of strange events that reveal what the group does to their weakest link.

Initially unfamiliar with Arvin Belarmino, Geia quickly learned how the writer and director has made a name for himself. The Filipino filmmaker has made it to Cannes before, when his debut feature Ria (2022) earned him a spot at the Festival De Cannes Cinéfondation La Residence. Though apprehensive because of the scale of the project, she was very much down for it, because “as a starting DP, you just want to get as much work.”

But upon reading the script, she was totally sold. “It was bizarre, it was crazy, it was out of this world.” She was able to imagine how she would shoot the sequences as the images came alive in her head.

“I remember when Arvin and I prepped for this wild and bizarre film last December, his extensive interest for chickens led us to curate and influence movement with the native Bakte dance of Cavite,” Geia writes in a Facebook post celebrating their achievement. “I had a goal of lighting it eerily to expand the feeling of mystery around the dance-group.”

During their first pre-production meeting, Geia asked Arvin why there were so many chickens in the film, and he said, “Wala, I love chicken! I love eating chicken, eh.” She mirrored this answer when I asked why she loves cinematography. “It’s just because I love doing it. It’s the feeling.”


GEIA DE VERA filipino gen z cinematographer cannes film festival

Geia’s worked mainly on student films before, but her talent speaks volumes. With Radikals making it to the shortlist of Critics’ Week film lineup, this marks a milestone in her filmmaking career—one that she never expected to reach one year fresh out of college.

In Cannes, Geia felt like she was in a dream. “It’s like a completely different world.” Meeting fellow filmmakers from around the world and learning from each other, building networks and connections, and engaging with the cinema and film culture of France and other creatives—that’s what it was all about. And experiencing it all so young not only validated her as a filmmaker, but also strengthened her ambition, despite knowing how it looks that such a young girl was attending such a prestigious festival.

GEIA DE VERA filipino gen z cinematographer cannes film festival

She even joked that maybe people thought she was just an intern. “I was so young, and [people] didn’t know that I was there for a premiere.” Other filmmakers would approach her, calling her “the 24-year old DP” in pleasant surprise, exchanging business cards and discussing the films they made. Easily an overwhelming experience, Geia drank it all up in all its glory.

One of her favorite experiences was watching a Cannes film at the IMAX Cineum Cannes, comedy-horror The Balconettes (2024), and hearing people laughing, clapping, and generally just reacting to the movie. The theater experience is a unique one, able to be experienced solo, but also shared with a community. And in this era of streaming, it’s a welcome and wonderful experience. “It’s great to experience it with a set of people who genuinely love and want to be there and watch a film in theaters.”


GEIA DE VERA filipino gen z cinematographer cannes film festival

Though there’s no denying the potential and changemaking actions of the youth today, there’s also still preconceived notions about young people working in their fields of interest, and Geia, entering a set with a professional team, knew she would experience that judgment firsthand. As a young woman, an aspiring cinematographer who just graduated from school at that, working on a professional film set, there is unfortunately an expected undermining of her ability.

“Especially if you’re working with older professionals,” she shares. “Parang you get the feeling na they’re like ‘bata pa ‘to, hindi pa ‘to ganun ka-galing.'” She felt like her presence was under doubt, even recalling a moment someone asked her outright “Do you know what you’re doing?”. She didn’t let it get to her, though, instead knowing that her own skill would speak for itself. She was committed to executing her director’s vision, she was meticulous, and she was prepared.

GEIA DE VERA filipino gen z cinematographer cannes film festival

That talent and determination didn’t go unnoticed. Arvin and the producers praised Geia’s ability, hyping her up now and then, sharing laughs and tears, especially when the call came that Radikals made it to Cannes. “What I appreciated about [Arvin], even though he’s already at a point na may pangalan siya, he never really cared about my age. He loved my ideas, he loved our collaboration, and he was never sexist about it.”

Working with a strong professional team and having a support system in all the mentors that have guided her throughout her career, all the people that have given her a chance, Geia’s grown to be a well-versed cinematographer, skilled and eager to learn, and always appreciative of the people she works with. “You’re only as good as your team, and I’m happy that I got to work on that project with the people that I really trust that I’ve worked with.”


GEIA DE VERA filipino gen z cinematographer cannes film festival

Like many creatives, Geia faced pushback from the people around her about pursuing a career in film.

“My family was very worried up until now,” she reveals. “Up until Cannes, they didn’t want me to be in the film industry. They had a different path for me.” Especially as someone new to the industry, it’s an uphill battle not just to get your name out there, but also to earn money. Though not getting much support from her family (until now!), she was held up by her mentors, her titos, in the industry, who saw her potential and encouraged her to go on.

No matter how uncertain things are or how difficult it gets, Geia is driven by a gut feeling to pursue her passions, because it just feels right. Losing herself in seeing things play out right in front of her and being able to frame it and tell a story moment by moment—it’s all so magical. “When you see things come to life right in front of you…it’s really such a different thing.”

GEIA DE VERA filipino gen z cinematographer cannes film festival

After getting a taste of being in the big leagues, Geia de Vera is learning to balance being a professional and holding onto that youth that got her to where she is—to the eagerness and fresh ideas held by this generation. She’s growing, as a person and as a filmmaker, holding onto her dreams with the same grace and strength she uses to hold a camera.

Images courtesy of Geia de Vera.

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