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The cinematography of The Florida Project shows how poverty affects the lives of young children living in it

The cinematography of the film The Florida Project puts the audience into the shoes of children. The movie, directed by Sean Baker and shot by Alexis Zabe follows the story from the point of view of the kids, which allows the viewer to see how they experience the world. During scenes in which the action is taking place elsewhere, dynamic camera work puts focus on kids and what they’re doing in that moment. All of these aspects work together to help show the isolation and yet resilience of the children in the face of poverty.

The Florida Project takes place in the Magic Castle Hotel, just outside of Disney World, and follows six-year-old Mooney and her friends throughout their summer vacation. From the children’s point of view, you see young, single parents struggling to afford necessities for their family, such as rent and healthy food. The desperation to find money leads them to sex work and theft.

We tend to be very aware of a film’s dialogue, characters and setting, and can clearly see how those elements are guiding the story; however, an aspect of films that’s often overlooked is colour. Colour can set the mood of the scene, giving you a sense of what will happen. It can single out a particular character and create a strong overall style and aesthetic that supports the film’s overall and feeling.

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The main colour used in The Florida Project is purple, which is colour of the motel. Purple is a fun, youthful colour giving off the feeling that everything is good and happy. This contrasts with the actual lives the film depicts which are gritty and dark, as the people in the motel are struggling day to day. The colour also connects to the film’s focus on children. Light purple emphasizes their innocence. Even though they are in a difficult situation, they still are lighthearted.

In the first scene (seen in the cover photo at the topic of the article) we are introduced to two characters, Moonee and Scooty. Already in this moment, we can single out the main character. Moonee is wearing a bright yellow shirt which contrasts with the purple motel behind her. This use of colour contrasting pulls your attention to Moonee, compared to the other child in the shot, Scooty, who is wearing more toned-down colours. This effect shows that Moonee is going to be the the main focus out of the group of friends

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The whole film is from Moonee and her friends’ point of view. One scene shows Moonee’s young mother, Halley who has quick temper, attempting to get money from an organization that offers temporary financial assistance to families. While Halley is yelling at the worker, the camera is focused on Moonee in the background and how she’s reacting to what’s happening. Typically, a camera would focus on the loud conflict happening in the room; however, they chose to pull focus to Moonee’s reaction. Showing that her mother is out of focus in the foreground emphasizes this disjunction. Most children would look upset if their parent were shouting, however Moonee is just playing with a doll. She does glance at Halley but keeps an expressionless face. The implication is clear: Moonee has lived with a rebellious mother with a temper for her entire life and she has adjusted to it and finds it normal.  

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During scenes where the children don’t completely understand what is happening, the camera focuses on the kids, keeping the bad moments unfocused or completely out of frame. When Scooty’s mom Ashley, doesn’t let him play with Moonee, Halley confronts her, however, when she asks if Scooty’s mom can pay her rent, the conversation escalates into a full shouting match with Ashley accusing Halley of prostitution. At this moment, the camera cuts to Scooty with him looking at the women who are out of focus. At the same time, the sound of the television drowns out their argument. Even when Halley attacks Ashley, punching and throwing her to the ground violently, the camera remains focused on the back of Scooty’s head with the fighting unfocused and only partially seen. The camera does not follow the fighting when it careens out of frame.

There are a multiple scenes where Moonee is in the bath, listening to loud rap music. The full significance of these repeated bath scenes become clear later when we realize that Halley is prostituting herself during these times. We only see these moments from Moonee’s point of view which helps us experience the cluelessness she goes through. Even when one of the men accidently walks in on Moonee the camera stays on her. Which lets the audience see her stunned and confused reaction to what had just happened. Having the camera focus solely on the kids while scenes like this take place puts your attention on their reactions, centering them as the main concern.

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Moonee has rebellious attitude just like her mother and she leads her friends to be more rule-breaking. She brings Scooty and Jancey to an abandoned house where they begin to run around breaking items. There’s a moment when Moonee and Jancey separate from Scooty, and go off to play leaving Scooty alone. The girls find him and look at him through a broken wall as he’s attempting to break another wall with a bat. Moonee and Jancey are dark and out of focus, the only light in this scene is where Scooty is. This brings attention to him and what he’s doing, however he only takes up a small amount of the frame, with Moonee and Jancey in the foreground looking through the break on the wall. This gives a feeling separation between the two girls and Scooty and foreshadows the friends being pushed apart later on in the film.  Following this scene the friends regroup momentarily and accidently light the house on fire. Scooty admits that he was a part of it and his mom does allow him to play with the girls anymore. This is a crucial turning point in the film because for the rest of the film Scooty is isolated from Jancey and Moonee, who do everything together.

Cinematography brings dynamic scenes with camera shots from the people’s point of view whether it be a kid or a parent, letting us see how the characters react to similar situations. It uses vibrant colours that bring whole scenes to life putting the viewer in to the mood that the character feels. The Florida Project uses all of these aspects perfectly to tell the story of a struggling family in way that isn’t usually done.  Most films that are about struggling families concentrate on the parents and teens, only giving the audience a partial glimpse of how the young children experience what’s happening around them. However, as we see, The Florida Project takes a completely different approach: it shows us the effect that poverty has on the children, giving a new point of view to the viewer. Children are talked about less when it comes to struggling families and poverty, making it difficult to understand how they may think of the situation they’ve been placed in. The Florida Project cleverly shows how the childrens day to day lives are impacted by the situation they are in.

1 comment on “The cinematography of The Florida Project shows how poverty affects the lives of young children living in it

  1. Pingback: Reflection – Marie Moo

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