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Posts Tagged ‘Chris Bergosh’

And there’s that one particular harbour
Sheltered from the wind
Where the children play on the shore each day
And all are safe within

One Particular Harbour written by Jimmy Buffett & Bobby Holcomb

(Warning: Long post today. Only wrote it because I think it needed to be said. You might disagree, but that’s the purpose of discourse. If you want something short, here’s a link to the screenplay and the press kit for The Florida Project ).

Over the weekend I learned that there’s a Margaritaville Resort Orlando being built and it seemed like the perfect place to round out my run of posts centered around The Florida Project.

The Jimmy Buffett/Key West-inspired resort is being built in Kissimmee on U.S. Route 192 in the shadow of Disney World—and is just 10 miles away from The Magic Castle Inn and Suites where they filmed most of The Florida Project.

Since this is my last planned post on The Florida Project I must address the mouse in the room. Yes, there is much I admired about the acting, the writing, and the overall production of the movie including the cinematography of Alexis Zabe . 

I love that it shined a spotlight on the issue of the hidden homeless. And I’m glad it will now be an ongoing part of that conversation. The movie has a 100% top critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes and I think it will be remembered at Oscar-nomination time.

But the conversation that I haven’t read about is the responsibility of the mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) If she has a mental illness then we can end the discussion and know that her circumstances need to be addressed on a professional medical level.  But if she’s not mentally ill then it’s fair game to speculate how she got there and why she appears to be heading in the wrong direction.

This indie film is a character study, so let’s study Halley a little bit more. I like that screenwriters Sean Baker and Chris Bergosh didn’t give us a back story or dump a lot of exposition on us about Halley.

But how did she and her daughter come to live in a low-budget, extended stay hotel in Florida? (If she simply ran away from her problems at home with hopes of a new life in the palm trees then that path is well-worn and comes with the disclaimer: “Results may vary.”)

Perhaps The Florida Project isn’t about the problem that there’s not enough affordable housing in parts of the country (as some have said), but a cautionary tale on how not to live your life.

At every turn Halley shoots herself in the foot.

A while ago I saw a video on the internet (if I find it I’ll post it here) and the person was telling students that they only needed to do three things to have a shot at a good life in America. (In the U.S. there is the extra advantage over other parts of the world in that that clean drinkable water is a given.)

  1. Finish school. (At least high school, ideally college.)
  2. Don’t have a kid until you are out of school and can support yourself and your kid.
  3. Get a job. Keep it. And do it well.

What happens if you don’t accomplish any of those? Halley is Exhibit A. 

Too harsh? Maybe. Or maybe just the harsh reality of what happens to those who give the finger to any kind of structure in their lives. The Halley’s of the world are not going to make that 10 mile journey from The Magic Castle to Margaritaville Resort Orlando (or even a basic 1-bedroom apartment) without a lot of grace. And hard work.

One summer when I was in college I worked in a factory where if you punched in late to work you were given a warning, if you punched in late a second time you were sent home for the day, if you punched in late a third time, you were fired. Halley’s F.U. attitude has no chance of being hired at a place like that, or keeping a job like that if she got it.

There were factory workers there who had been through various hardships and challenges. Many were part of the working poor. Some lived at home and drank what they earned. One guy told me that if he didn’t take quaaludes he wouldn’t make it through the day.

You didn’t have to be Theodore Dreiser to know you were watching An American Tragedy unfoldOr part American tragedy and part of the American dream.  Some were taking a night class or two at a community college and chipping away at a degree and hoping for a better life. Heck, I bet the majority of them did okay. (Probably one or two are planning to move to Margaritaville Orlando as soon as it opens.)

If Halley is hoping for a better life, she’s sure not doing much to that end. (And I’m not sure another stripper job is the answer.) This is not the edgy character April in Pieces of April who has issues but is trying to make amends to her dying mother by cooking a turkey for her family  on Thanksgiving. No, this is a young woman hustling her way through life—and that includes her doing prostitution work in a hotel while her daughter hides in bathroom.

Halley appears to have no support system; no parents or grandparents to take her in, no boyfriend to share the load. The closest person that can bring her a hint of redemption is the manager Bobby (Willem Defoe) and he’s close to kicking her out of the hotel for bad behavior.

In literary terms Halley’s joined the end of the rope club. In real life the Halley’s of the world often end up dead sooner than later.

But they don’t have to. If you’re a Halley, find an extended family member, a social service group, or a faith-based group to help you get back on your feet. I don’t think anyway wants to see their daughter or sister go through what Halley (and by extension her daughter Moonee) go through in the movie. May you find shelter from the storm in that one particular harbour. (If you’re like Halley and in Central Florida contact the Coalition for the Homeless in Central Florida/407.426.1250. Their website says they’ve helped nearly 1,000 guests move from one of their programs to permanent housing just in the past year.)

It’s one thing for a movie to open our eyes, another thing to stir our hearts, but it’s all just poverty porn if all we do is talk about fine acting and beautiful cinematography.

P.S. Brooklynn Prince (who plays Halley’s daughter Moonee in The Florida Project) was named today as BEST YOUTH PERFORMANCE by the Seattle Film Critics Society.

Update: After I wrote this post I ended up reading dozens of reviews on The Florida Project before I came across this a Film Comment review by Cassie da Costa that gave a little push back: “We never get any particular sense of who Moonee and Halley are as individuals beyond their predicament and pluck, and why they are at the center of the movie, instead of, for instance, Scooty and Ashley, or Jancey and Stacy, or Bobby and the young delivery man named Jack who seems to be his son. It seems that all of these characters are on screen because they’re interesting—they have unpredictable, confrontational personalities, and live in a rarely depicted, insular community where their eccentricities interweave and conflict—but not because Baker has genuine emotional insight on them or their circumstances.”

Scott W. Smith

 

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“What [documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple] does is she really immerses herself— you really feel like with her films you’re on the strike line, you’re getting close to her subjects. That’s what we wanted to do [with The Florida Project]. We basically wanted to—very similar to they way I approached Tangerine—though  laughter, and through simple entertainment of being around these characters, I’m hoping audiences will embrace little Moonee. Love her so much that at the end when the credits are rolling and they’re going home they’re discussing the real Moonees that are out there. And perhaps what they can do to help the real Moonees. My number one goal with this movie to shine a light, because education is always the first step towards removing the stigma of homelessness. So that’s really the first goal, to have people interested enough to at least talk about it and look into it. For example, I didn’t know that there was even a term the hidden homeless. I didn’t know there was a hidden homeless population. It wasn’t until [co-screenwriter] Chris Bergosh brought this to my attention. And from there on it’s really about how much the audience wants to get involved. …I’m in a privileged place. I have this platform. I’m lucky enough to be given money to tell stories. …My hope is to use this entertainment medium that I’ve been trained to do to help the world a bit. To perhaps have people think a different way.”
Sean Baker
Filmspotting podcast interview

P.S. Barbara Kopple’s Harlan Country USA (1976) and American Dream (1990) gave slices of American life in Kentucky and Minnesota and both also won best feature film documentary Oscars.

Scott W. Smith

 

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I’m back to livin’ Floridays
Blue skies and ultra-violet rays
Lookin’ for better days
Jimmy Buffett/Floridays

I still have a few more days of posts in me about The Florida Project, but today is a nod to my own childhood in Central Florida. I took the photos below this week on one of those ideal Florida days that don’t come around as often as people think—sunny, blue skies, 70 degrees.

I’ve been going to Lake Eola in downtown Orlando as far back as I can remember and it features one of the few iconic landmarks in the city (the water fountain), and is the longtime home of swans and swan boats.

 

 

Walking around Lake Eola was one of the things people did for fun before Disney World came to town. It was a simpler place. I’m not one that agrees that low wage tourism jobs is totally to blame for the homeless situation featured in The Florida Project. 

Sure it factors into the equation. But a wide variety of people have been drawn to Florida for over 100 years looking for a great vacation or a better life. Some find one or the other, fewer find both, and unfortunately some like Halley in The Florida Project find neither. (There’s a lot of truth in the t-shirt sloan that says, “Wherever you go, there you are.”)

The Florida Projects helps continue the conversation of how we’re going to address the hidden homeless that is a nationwide dilemma. (Read this article regarding the homeless “crisis” in Silicon Valley.)

P.S. I don’t know anything about the organization Hope 192/Hope Community Center, except their stated goal/emphasis “is to assist those living homeless or in motels and hotels along Osceola County’s 192 Corridor.” The real life Halley and Moonies. And the provided some research assistant to co-screenwriters Sean Baker and Chris Bergosh while writing The Florida Project. Check out their site and consider making a Thanksgiving donation.

Scott W. Smith

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[Brooklynn Prince] is just so incredible and she worked very closely with Sam [acting coach Samantha Quan], but to tell you the truth with her in particular she is a born thespian. I mean she is really acting. There is a true performance there, a true character that she found. She is wise beyond her years. I just can’t speak more highly of her, and just love her. She just brought so much to the table and I can’t even imagine [The Florida Project] without her. …For the three kids, Brooklyn,  Christopher Rivera, Valeria Cotto,  [Sam] made it a really fun summer camp environment for the kids. It was shot over their summer, so we were taking their summer away from them, so we wanted to give them the best experience possible. And at the end of every day—you have a limited number of hours you can work with children because of child labor laws, so you get to that six hour mark and you have to let them go. And [Brooklynn] would never want to go. Well it’s the law, get out of here [laughs]. I think because it was so much like a family unit. the kids were having fun, they were having workshops, experimenting, that by the time we actually got them in front of the camera they understood their characters enough where if I did have the audacity to ask little six year old to improvise it was fine. They would actually be able to pull it off. And especially Brooklynn. Brooklynn has that innate, genius ability to comedically improvise. Which is incredible at that age.  Near the end of the film, we just spend time eating with her brunch at a higher end hotel that her mother brings her to. And I just wanted to document her eating. Just a series of jump cuts of her eating. What I did was just roll two, thousand foot mags on a 35mm camera so it’s like 20 minutes. And we just watch this girl eat for 20 minutes. And Chris [Bergoch] and I have scripted lines,—we do have a full screenplay— but I encourage improvisation on top of it. So she got through her 15 scripted lines in a minute and a half and we had 18 minutes to burn. So we just ask her questions, what do you think that taste like? What do you wish that tasted like. And sometimes I’m feeding lines to her, or taking her lines—like if she gives me something that’s almost there, I can quickly figure something out with Chris, and deliver the line back to her and she’ll feed it to us. It was wonderful to see her do that. It was like stand-up comedy night. We had 40 cast and crew just watching this little girl eat.”
Sean Baker , director, editor, co-writer on The Florida Project
Filmspotting
 podcast interview #652

I think my favorite line in the movie is when Brooklynn says while eating the she wishes her fork was made of candy so she could eat it when she was done with her meal. Maybe that was a scripted line that she just delivered real, but it felt improvised, fresh, in character and totally something a six year old would say.

Scott W. Smith

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