Sean Baker Talks "Sad Children Living out of Hotels" Next to Disney World

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Sean Baker

'The Florida Project' director in an appearance at the Antalya film festival explains why he wanted to address the hidden homelessness in America in his latest movie.

Sean Baker this weekend explained his decision to explore the issue of America's "hidden homeless" in his new film The Florida Project.

Speaking to an industry audience at the Antalya International Film Festival, which wrapped over the weekend in Turkey, Baker said exploring the lives of people without permanent homes, who live on the margins of society, was the driving force behind the film.

"The homeless who we don't see on the street, but are keeping a roof over their head by going to budget motels, staying in cars, staying with families, we wanted to focus on this – the sad juxtaposition of children living out of hotels next to the place [Disney World] that we consider the most magical place on earth for children," Baker said.

The film's title was something that has intrigued many people, he added. "The Florida Project" is the term that Walt Disney used for Walt Disney World and Epcot Centre when he was purchasing the land and developing the parks in the early 1970s. "They did it to keep the competitive land buyers at bay," Baker explained. "So my co-screenwriter brought this to my attention. The Route 92 — that leads through Orlando and Kissimmee (where our story takes place) — that area was once targeted towards tourists, but then fell into blighted times. A lot of the hotels have become refuges for families who have lost their housing and are technically homeless."

Baker said that casting Willem Dafoe, who plays Bobby, helped the movie. The role was drawn from motel managers met during research for the film.

"There was a common thread," Baker said. "They were reluctant fathers. They loved these families and children and had compassion, but they kept a distance since on any given day they had to evict these families and put them on the street, literally. Walking on the street with their belongings if they couldn't pay the daily rate. I saw that in all the men, and I think Willem saw that … and he brought that to the character."

The film, which is set over one summer and also stars Bria Vinaite and Valeria Cotto, follows precocious six-year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her group of ragtag friends living in the shadow of Disney World.

The Florida Project picked up a special jury award at the 54th edition of the Antalya festival, which wrapped Saturday. Other major prize winners were Chinese director Vivian Qu’s Angels Wear White, which won best film and best actress for Wen Qi, and Mohammad Rasoulof's Man of Integrity, best director and best actor for Reza Akhlaghirad. Rasoulof, whose passport was recently confiscated by Iranian officials, was unable to attend the festival.