AFI Movie Club: THE FLORIDA PROJECT – American Film Institute
The Florida Project Film Still



THE FLORIDA PROJECT was honored with an AFI AWARD in 2017 as one of the year’s most outstanding achievements in the art of the moving image. The film stars Academy Award® nominee Willem Dafoe and newcomer Brooklynn Prince and juxtaposes “the high-stakes struggles of adults and the untethered innocence of childhood.” Brooklynn Prince

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Watch director Sean Baker talk about THE FLORIDA PROJECT in this exclusive video from the AFI Archive:


Movie Trivia About Today’s Film

DID YOU KNOW? THE FLORIDA PROJECT is a reference to Walt Disney World, which was known as “The Florida Project” during its early stages of development. 

DID YOU KNOW? Director Sean Baker first learned of the real-life families living in hotels from his co-writer Chris Bergoch, whose mother lived in the Orlando area. 

DID YOU KNOW? Unlike most films today, THE FLORIDA PROJECT was shot on 35mm film instead of using digital cameras. 

DID YOU KNOW? Much of the script was improvised, and many of the actors were performing onscreen for the first time.

DID YOU KNOW? According to Sean Baker, the production was almost shut down midway through principal photography because his crew – unfamiliar with his directing style – believed he was “rogue and crazy.” 

DID YOU KNOW? Filming took place in Osceola, Florida, mainly at the Magic Castle Inn & Suites, which stood in for the movie’s Magic Castle Hotel. The hotel presented logistical challenges to the filmmakers, since it was not shut down during filming. Some actual residents appeared in THE FLORIDA PROJECT as background actors. 

DID YOU KNOW? The lifestyle portrayed in THE FLORIDA PROJECT is not uncommon to that part of America. At the time of the film’s release, Florida school districts had seen an increase of students living in transitional housing units such as motels and hotels with rooms typically rented to the “hidden homeless” for around $40 per night. 

DID YOU KNOW? Writer/director Sean Baker secretly shot scenes at Walt Disney World on an iPhone 6 over a two-day period, bypassing the need to secure approval to have a full crew at the park. According to Baker, the footage fell under Fair Use laws. Baker also noted in interviews that THE FLORIDA PROJECT does not intend to disparage the Disney Corporation, which gave $500,000 to help the homeless in Orlando.   

DID YOU KNOW? THE FLORIDA PROJECT made its world premiere at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival in the Directors’ Fortnight section. 

DID YOU KNOW? Along with winning an AFI AWARD for one of the best movies of 2017, THE FLORIDA PROJECT’s Willem Dafoe was honored with an Academy Award® nomination for Best Supporting Actor, marking his third nomination in that category. Dafoe was also nominated for the Golden Globe, the Screen Actors Guild Award and the BAFTA Award. Making her feature film debut in a starring role, Brooklynn Prince won the Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Young Performer. 

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

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-Describe Moonee’s living situation and how it impacts her life. Do you think she would have such an abundant imagination if she was able to have her desires met in real life? Is she merely making the best of a troubled situation, or are her fantasies necessary for her survival in an unstable environment? 

-Filmmaker Sean Baker juxtaposes Moonee’s rugged life at the Magic Castle Hotel with the hope and promise of “the happiest place on Earth,” Walt Disney World. How does Moonee interpret Disney’s version of happiness, and how does she attempt to recreate it in her immediate landscape? 

-Did you visit a Disney theme park as a child? What was your experience? Did you think of it as an escape from your real life, or was it rather a simple form of entertainment? 

-In THE FLORIDA PROJECT, there is a scene that alludes to “The Little Rascals” OUR GANG series of short films from the 1920s and 30s. How do historical films from the Great Depression relate to an audience viewing THE FLORIDA PROJECT in 2017, and how is a sampling of sweetness so meaningful to children who are deprived of simple luxuries? 

-While the ending of THE FLORIDA PROJECT is intentionally ambiguous and left to interpretation, Sean Baker explained that it is “really about finding empathy” for the mother Halley, who endured a teenage pregnancy and was denied a childhood of her own. What do you make of the ending? How do you feel about Child Protective Services taking Moonee away from her makeshift home, and do you think her escape into Disney World is real or imagined? 

-How would you rate THE FLORIDA PROJECT? 


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Comments (1)

Diane Nilan

I wrote this post to illustrate the important issues brought up by The Florida Project that add context to the story.

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