"The working class isn’t usually portrayed in films, unless it is a cartoon version of them,” explains Willem Dafoe. But, for Dafoe, “The Florida Project” is different, and that's exactly why it was so appealing.
Fresh off receiving critical acclaim at Cannes and Toronto, with Dafoe’s portrayal of the modern working class hero Bobby, a kind hearted motel manager just looking to make the establishment better, earning particular acclaim, the depiction of this world in "The Florida Project" is unflinching, drenched in realism, yet still laced with beauty and humor.
Shown through the eyes of Moonee, played by the transfixing Brooklyn Kimber Prince, and set just outside of Walt Disney World Resort, "The Florida Project" unfolds amidst a community of extended-stay motel guests that are just trying to find enough money to pay their rent from month to month.
The gaze of the film makes sure it always feels “very alive, very colorful and very mischievous,” Dafoe explains, even though this is then juxtaposed against older characters that are on the brink of homelessness and poverty. "The Florida Project’s" depiction of this new working class, who, in the wake of the financial crisis, can’t get new homes, informs everything that unfolds in Sean Baker’s follow-up to his breakout hit "Tangerine."
“A central condition of these people is that they don’t have a home," Dafoe remarks. "They’re living temporarily, long-term in these places. Paying as they go. And that’s a big deal. Because after the financial crisis and housing crisis a lot of people lost their homes and had a hard time getting homes again. And that conditions a lot of the film.”
Dafoe is keen to stress, “['The Florida Project'] is not a downer, though, and a lot of people will see it as very hopeful. The movie creates enough things that make it resonant. You’ll make your own metaphors when watching it.”
In order to get to the essence of its characters and their plight, Baker and the rest of his cast and crew shot "The Florida Project" in a motel in Kissimmee, Florida, amongst its guests. Dafoe admits that this was integral, both to his process and to making sure that "The Florida Project" always felt “true.”
“We weren’t exploiting this world to say something, or give a particular message. We were just trying to bring this world to life. This is a world I have never seen. We filmed at the actual place, and around people that actually live there. We kind of insinuated ourselves into the fabric of the real place, and that kind of informed what we were doing.”
“The people guided us, and made sure we didn’t make a bull sh*t movie. Because we saw how they lived. Those people became our people. And that always helps, because you learn something new, and you learn a new perspective. And it adds a certain commitment to your story. You make sure you don’t have preconditioned responses to things, and you really reimagine a world that you might not know. And you inhabit it.“
You can inhabit "The Florida Project" for yourself when it is released into cinemas on October 6.