Sean Baker arrived at the Toronto Film Festival with one of the most talked-about films in the program, his Cannes hit The Florida Project. Having premiered in Directors’ Fortnight in May this year, the follow-up to the LA-set Sundance hit Tangerine (2015) wowed critics and punters alike with its sometimes joyously anarchic, sometimes harrowing story of a young single mother (newcomer Bria Vinaite) and her little girl (Brooklynn Prince) living on benefits in a motel just south of the Disney World resort in Orlando. 

Though it deals subtly and sympathetically with the issue of America’s ‘hidden homeless’, the director revealed, when he came to the Deadline studio, that he had no idea this crisis existed until it was brought to his attention by his frequent collaborator and co-screenwriter Chris Bergoch. “I didn’t know this even was an issue in the Unites States,” he said. “At the same time, I always wanted to make a film about children—very influenced by The Little Rascals—[and] I thought this would an interesting opportunity to take that [idea], make an entertaining film, but deliver a message with it.”

Baker revealed that Prince came from an open casting call, and Bria he found on Instagram. “She made me laugh,” he said, and had “the proper vibe I was looking for”. Willem Dafoe, meanwhile, who plays the motel’s big-hearted manager, was gracious about playing second fiddle to two first-timers. “It seemed like a good adventure and a beautiful project,” he said. “My job was to fit in with them.”

Baker and his cast discuss the film in the video above.

Deadline Studio at TIFF 2017 is presented by Calii LoveWatford GroupPhilosophy Canada, and Equinox. Special thanks to Dan Gunam at Calii Love for location and production assistance; and Ontario Camera for equipment assistance. Video producer: Meaghan Gable; lighting and camera: Neil Hansen; design: Dialla Kawar; sound recording: Ida Jokinen.