WASHINGTON — “The Florida Project,” now in limited release, centers on 6-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) who lives with her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) in an motel on the outskirts of Walt Disney World, two of a number of what director Sean Baker calls “the hidden homeless.”
But even though Baker uses documentary techniques to capture a very real crisis in American cities, he says that one of its inspirations was “The Little Rascals,” the comedy shorts of the 20s and 30s.
“Many of these characters in ‘The Little Rascals’ were living in poverty. What set the style of the comic shorts were focused on what made kids, kids,” he tells Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM.
“I want audiences to go in there and enjoy 90 minutes of hanging out with the kids, being one of the kids, bringing audiences back to the summers of their youth,” he adds.
“The Florida Project” has won wide acclaim from critics and on the festival circuit, in part for its focus on Moonee’s humorous experiences with her friends in the Magic Castle, the motel where it is set, located in a strip of decaying motor lodges. The movie was shot at a real motel with longterm residents, and some appear in the movie.
Another standout character in the movie is Bobby Hicks (Willem Dafoe), the manager of the motel, a character who also took some inspiration from a real-life employee at the Magic Castle.
“We are trying to present these topics in a way that is still entertainment, but also sheds a light and brings awareness,” Baker says.
He says that he hopes that audiences also come away thinking “about the real Moonees when they leave the theater, and perhaps look at the hidden homeless situation in their own communities.”
“This isn’t just Orlando and Kissimmee,” he says. “This is a nationwide issue we have going on here, and it is perhaps happening in your own community, right under your own nose and you don’t know it. And what we eventually would like to do is get people involved and motivated to bring about change.”
“PopPolitics,” hosted by Variety’s Ted Johnson, airs from 2-3 p.m. ET/11-noon PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand.