‘The other side of the American Dream:’ Film about poor kids at Disney’s gates is a hit

Director Sean Baker and actor Willem Dafoe attend the Hammer Museum Presents The Contenders 2017- “The Florida Project” at The Hammer Museum on December 13, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (AFP)
Updated 16 December 2017
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‘The other side of the American Dream:’ Film about poor kids at Disney’s gates is a hit

PARIS: It is already the fairy tale of this year’s Oscars race: A little film about homeless children living in the shadow of Walt Disney World in Florida that threatens to turn the tables on the big-budget favorites.
Director Sean Baker, who shot his last film on an iPhone, has scored a surprise hit with a gritty yet heartwarming tale, “The Florida Project.”
It has already been showered with prizes by US critics, usually reliable pointers for the Oscars, and has made the lists for best film of the year on both sides of the Atlantic.
Not bad for a movie that no one initially wanted to back and whose rookie lead actor Baker found on Instagram.
Driven by the remarkable performances he drew from Bria Vinaite as a tattooed single mother living hand-to-mouth in a motel with her seven-year-old daughter (Brooklynn Prince), the film has built a head of steam since it premiered at the Cannes film festival in May.
“I am happy for my actors,” Baker told AFP, “because they deserve it, but I try not to take anything too seriously.”
“It is not why I made the film,” said the director, who was partly inspired by the rascally spirit of the “Our Gang” street kid comedy films, which were hugely popular during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Baker went to live in a budget hotel along the Kissimmee Strip that leads from Disney World to see for himself how people struggle to make ends meet within sight of the theme park that bills itself as “The Happiest Place on Earth.”
“I am drawn to these kind of stories, the other side of the American Dream — those that are left behind,” Baker said.
“You have this population living in budget hotels underneath signs trying to sell a dream to tourists, yet the people living there cannot afford the things being pushed into their face.”
In this lurid landscape of gun shops, ice cream parlours and chain restaurants, the film’s child heroes play, hustle and cause havoc, frequently testing the patience of the motel’s long-suffering manager, played by Willem Dafoe.
Baker shot the film in almost a documentary style at the bright purple Magic Castle motel in Kissimmee, using mostly amateur actors, the hotel’s residents and passing tourists as extras, even giving some of them small speaking parts.
“I wanted a real environment and I wanted the community to be involved,” he said.
Baker insisted that his child stars also came from Florida, and even found one — the remarkable Valeria Cotto, then five — in a nearby Target superstore.
“I gave my card to her mother and I remember the look on her face. She obviously was very suspicious because my cards have my dogs on them. I will have to change that,” he laughed.
Baker, 46, had never worked with children before — “it was a long and patient process” — yet managed to weave tough adult themes into the story.
“We see it almost through the viewpoint of a child. Most of the adult themes are off camera. There’s a degree of candy coating to everything,” Baker said.
Like his acclaimed breakthrough movie “Tangerine,” a strangely life-affirming portrait of a transgender sex worker which he shot on a phone, “The Florida Project” has been praised for the subtlety of its storytelling.
Its authentic feel had one US journalist asking Baker “how I got Willem Dafoe to be in my documentary.”
First he wanted to cast Britney Spears as Halley, the wayward but loving mother — little more than a child herself — attempting to live by her wits alone.
But as time went on the idea of someone so rich and famous playing someone trapped in poverty began to “feel weird.”
Then he found Lithuanian-born Vinaite on Instagram and brought her to Florida, and then shot her and the children horsing around the motel on his iPhone.
It was there the electrifying chemistry between her and Brooklynn Prince was born.
“One day Brooklynn sat on her lap and they sang some top 20 song that I had never heard of and I thought, This is perfect!” the director said.
Prince, who was only six when the film was made, is now being tipped for an Oscar nod as best supporting actress.
Baker described her as “wonderful,” improvising one of the film’s funniest lines herself.
With “a steady, very well-rounded family” behind her, he said she was revelling in the buzz of its pre-Oscars publicity tour.
“It is usually the adults who are the tired ones, saying, ‘Can we just go home?’“


Baby Asahd steals hearts as DJ Khaled and Yara Shahidi win big at BET Awards

Updated 25 June 2018
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Baby Asahd steals hearts as DJ Khaled and Yara Shahidi win big at BET Awards

DUBAI: US-Palestinian DJ Khaled and his toddler Asahd took to the stage at the 2018 BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Monday night as the music mogul won the prize for the best collaboration.
DJ Khaled was the leading nominee with six and picked up the first award of the for “Wild Thoughts” with Rihanna and Bryson Tiller. He was holding his son on his hip onstage and used his speech to highlight young people, saying: “All of y’all are leaders and all of y’all are kings and queens — the future,” AP reported.
Meanwhile, Iranian-American teen actress Yara Shahidi won the YoungStars award, which saw her go head to head with two of her young co-stars from TV show “Black-ish.” She wasn’t on hand to pick up the trophy — and she wasn’t the only one.
The award show barely handed out any prizes with big stars like Cardi B, Drake and Kendrick Lamar absent, but it did include superior performances by rising singer H.E.R, rapper Meek Mill and gospel artist Yolanda Adams, who paid tribute to Anita Baker and nearly brought her to tears.
Baker, an eight-time Grammy winner who dominated the R&B charts from the early ‘80s to mid-90s, earned the Lifetime Achievement Award on Sunday at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
The 60-year-old used her speech to encourage the artists in the room to keep music alive.
“I would ask that the music be allowed to play, that singers are allowed to sing, and rappers are allowed to rap, and poets are allowed to rhyme,” said Baker.
Meek Mill, who was released from prison in April, rapped the song “Stay Woke” on a stage transformed into a street corner, featuring hustlers, children and police officers. A mother screams as her child is shot during the powerful performance, and an officer lays an American flag over the body.
Snoop Dogg celebrated 25 years in music, performing the classic songs “What’s My Name” and “Next Episode,” according to AP.
Childish Gambino, whose song and music video “This Is America” tackles racism and gun violence and became a viral hit last month, gave a short, impromptu performance of the song when Foxx brought him onstage.
“Everybody begged me to do a joke about that song. I said that song should not be joked about,” Foxx said.
The BET Awards normally hands its Humanitarian Award to one person, but six individuals received the honor Sunday. Dubbed “Humanitarian Heroes,” the network gave awards to James Shaw Jr., who wrestled an assault-style rifle away from a gunman in a Tennessee Waffle House in April; Anthony Borges, the 15-year-old student who was shot five times and is credited with saving the lives of at least 20 other students during February massacre in Florida; Mamoudou Gassama, who scaled an apartment building to save a child dangling from a balcony last month in Paris; Naomi Wadler, the 11-year-old who gave a memorable and influential speech at March for Our Lives; Justin Blackman, the only student to walk out of his high school in North Carolina during the nationwide student walkout to protest gun violence in March; and journalist and activist Shaun King.