Through the lens of Sean Baker

Through the lens of Sean Baker

I’ve been collecting movie posters since my teens and here are some of them. I talk about general film stuff in stories. - Sean Baker's Instagram Bio

I know filmmakers can be cool, but are they Sean-Baker-with-that-Instagram-bio-cool? I have no idea! What I know, though, is the fact that Sean Baker is one of the most important indie filmmakers of our time, and now one of the Palme d'Or winners for his new film Anora at the 77th Festival de Cannes. 

Daring to touch on issues such as sex work, inequalities and the fragile daily lives of people on the margins is in itself a revolutionary act. All the more so when it is done in American cinema, among so many diverse genres that prefer to stick only to action and the romanticization of life. Not that these films aren't essential to the larger spectrum of the cinematic universe, but Sean Baker has chosen the more rugged path, and it seems to be going very well for him, as cinephiles everywhere are tightly embracing his films.

Sean Baker is a more than a true auteur since in most of his projects he directs, writes the script, edits and produces them. He loved the art of homemade cinema from a young age, and his studies in filmmaking and editing didn't take long to follow. 

I became friends with [sex workers] and realized there were a million stories from that world. If there is one intention with all of these films, I would say it's by telling human stories, by telling stories that are hopefully universal. It's helping remove the stigma that's been applied to this livelihood, that's always been applied to this livelihood. - Sean Baker

Βorn and raised in New Jersey, his own American heritage cannot be separated from his work since in all of his films, from his first debut Four Letter Words to the very recent Anora, he comments, cautions, ironizes, embraces, colors and certainly creates conversations and dares to go raw about today's America. Ιf there is one thing that is truly unique about his films, is the compassionate and deeply human perspective with which he sees all socially marginalized people, and how the importance of accepting ourselves is ultimately greater than all opinions and social stereotypes.

Four Letter Words

Sean Baker's debut feature Four Letter Words presents a candid and often amusing exploration of the post-adolescent male psyche in suburban America. If you're more familiar with his latest films, you'll have no surprises as for the cinematic pace, the visual spectrum and all the Baker-y details. The film centers around a summer night party, where the characters, meeting for the first time since high school graduation, converge. As the night progresses, their behavior becomes more immature, the use of profanity escalates, and, unsurprisingly, a drunken fight breaks out.
From 2002 to 2004, he created a show called Greg The Bunny - except his last TV series Warren the Apes in 2010 - which continued again in 2005 with three more episodes. In between these years, he and Shih-Ching Tsou co-wrote, co-produce and co-directed Take Out, a film about an undocumented Chinese immigrant, Ming Ding, who falls behind on repaying a massive smuggling debt, and he has only until the end of the day to gather the money. Take Out was his first big festival breakthrough, since it was selected and premiered at Slamdance Film Festival.
Prince of Broadway 
In the Prince of Broadway in 2008, Sean Baker dives even more into the unadorable streets of New York, with a profoundly captivating and heartfelt story. Selling knock-off handbags and shoes to an ever-growing, fashion-hungry clientele, charismatic street hustler Lucky, an illegal immigrant, scrapes by in New York City's bustling Flatiron District. It's a tough world, and just when Lucky thinks he's left his past behind, his ex-girlfriend Linda suddenly reappears, burdening him with the responsibility of a young, innocent toddler—the son he never knew he had.
Before his most well-known film, the bittersweet but colourful The Florida Project, Sean Baker made two films about the importance of friendship through very different world aspects. The first one is Starlet, a story that delves into the unexpected friendship between 21-year-old Jane and the elderly Sadiei California's San Fernando Valley. Jane, an aspiring actress, spends her days getting high with her troubled roommates, while looking after her Chihuahua, Starlet. Sadie, a widow, spends her time alone, caring for her flower garden. Their worlds intersect at Sadie's yard sale, where Jane discovers a hidden stash of money in an old relic. As Jane tries to befriend the abrasive older woman to resolve her predicament, secrets begin to unravel, deepening their bond. 
And here comes Tangerine. A breakthrough American indie film, and the first one shot on three different iPhone 5s smartphones, something that Sean Baker revealed at Sundance Film Festival, at the film's premiere. Don't let this particular filming detail prevent you from screening this low-budget gem, on the contrary, this is exactly what makes it stand-out from all the rest, alongside with one of the most touching movie endings I've ever seen. 
The story unfolds over approximately 12 hours, focusing on the lives of two transgender prostitutes on Christmas Eve. Sin-dee has just been released from jail, and her best friend Alexandra reveals that Sin-dee's boyfriend and pimp has been involved with another woman during her absence. This revelation sends Sin-dee on a rampage through the streets of L.A., determined to find the other woman and confront her cheating man. The narrative alternates between Sin-dee's quest and Alexandra's encounters with clients throughout the day, while also subtly following a cab driver who is infatuated with Sin-dee, despite his family's disapproval. 
The Florida Project
This is one of my favorite movies, both visually and emotionally. The beautiful colors of the cinematography of The Florida Project make it appear sweet, but it also starkly portrays the harsh realities the characters live in. It's like a perfect utopian Disney movie seen through the eyes of a little girl. The Magic Castle, a brightly painted motel in the shadow of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, is home to Halley, a struggling single mother, and her mischievous 6-year-old daughter, Moonee. To Moonee, this uninviting world, filled with invisible lost souls, is a blissful utopia. However, the illusion of a carefree life comes at a high price. As Halley takes increasingly dangerous risks to survive, the consequences of her actions become a matter of survival. Ultimately, Halley faces a dilemma: she must either trust those around her or confront danger alone. 
Red Rocket 
Oh, what a trip to the unknown this film is, although I loved every second of it as it is originally funny, with Simon Rex's performance being one of the most hilarious things you'll ever see. On yet another Sean Baker colourful American adventure, Red Rocket focuses on Mikey Saber, a washed-up porn star, who decides to return to his small Texas hometown, however no one really wants him back. After nearly two decades of complete estrangement, Mikey has the audacity to appear at the front door of his long-suffering wife, Lexi. Despite Mikey's attempt to win her over, Lexi remains wary as the washed-up actor slowly re-enters her life, attempting to resume where they left off. However, Mikey's attention soon shifts to Strawberry, a cheerful doughnut shop cashier, as he finds himself drawn to her bubbly personality. It won't take long for things to be a hard mess, and Mikey will have to face the harsh reality of his long absence.
When the Cannes Film Festival revealed this year's Palme d'Or nominees and I saw Sean Baker's Anora among them, I anticipated it would be another noteworthy film generating buzz, despite the lack of information - not even the first picture had been released at that time. However, upon its premiere and the subsequent convergence of opinions among audiences and critics, coupled with the unveiling of the first picture of Mikey Madison, I admittedly assumed that Sean Baker could win this year's Palme d'Or - and he did. 
All that we know about Anora so far is that the story revolves around a young sex worker from Brooklyn (named Anora), who finds herself in a potential Cinderella story when she meets and spontaneously marries the son of an oligarch. However, when news of the marriage reaches Russia, her fairytale is jeopardized as the parents embark on a journey to New York to annul the union.
In each of his narratives, Sean Baker imbues the sense that he's aiming to address larger themes, yet he does so through the simplest of stories, ones that may not always be visible in our daily lives but are undeniably present in our surroundings. Venturing into Sean Baker's world is an adventure in itself, where surprises abound for those with open eyes and a desire for an enjoyable experience.
This is Sean Baker.
Main Photo Credits: A24, The Florida Project 
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