The possibility of empathy

By Felipe André Silva


In The Florida Project, Sean Baker follows his project of filming marginalized people with affection and tenderness.

The most captivating element of The Florida Project, the new film by the North-American Sean Baker, is the deep sense of empathy, granting unusual freedom to individuals who inhabit its universe. The director, on the rise after Tangerine, filmed on an iPhone, presents his new work in 35mm without, however, losing the tenderness that has characterized his style so far. Shot in the extended stay motels around the Disney area in Orlando, The Florida Projectfollows a group of low-income children whose existence contrasts with the luxury and wealth of the amusement park surrounding them.

This routine – in which the kids, on vacation, have nothing to do other than wander around near Disney in the midst of mischief – unfolds as a great child's play, not just for the protagonists, but for the film itself. Baker approaches a game of make believe in which they are all, consciously, fantasizing.

Despite the natural tone in which the film relies on, there is the sense that most of its agents (director, photographer, actors, non-actors) are fully aware of their existence within the film. It is not, however, an active metalinguistic effort, but a mere awareness by the characters of their external setting, a consciousness that Baker never seeks to disguise.

Continuing an aesthetic and thematic project initiated by the director in the 90s, when he began filming marginalized groups in an urgent and emotional way, this film represents a rare moment in which the observation of marginalized groups presents itself free from a rancid "punitivism", frequently seen in American films in the worst possible forms, from Crash to Precious – especially against African-American characters –, which is not the case here.

At the same time, there is no glamorization of the difficulties experienced by these children who, exposed to the failed American utopia, are forced to live amidst the violence and exploitation that gushes from the adult universe surrounding them.