MIA CARNEVALE/THE VARSITY

Perhaps by now I should be used to the fact that some of the greatest films will go unappreciated by the Academy. However, this year, I could no longer sit idly by as another movie joined the ranks of undeserved Oscar snubs. The Florida Project does everything a great movie is supposed to do, but its contribution was unjustly overlooked at this year’s Academy Awards.

A dreamy visual experience that at least warranted a nomination for Best Cinematography, The Florida Project puts you in the shoes of Moonee, a six-year-old girl living in a rundown motel on the outskirts of Disney World with her young mother, who is in many ways a child herself. Moonee is mischievous, carefree, a bit of a brat, and part of a demographic in America known as the ‘hidden homeless’ — those who live in temporary housing and are often forgotten by society.

While Moonee’s situation may be heartbreaking to many, the film is not made to make you feel hopeless. Instead, it’s a celebration of childhood, friendship, and family — just not in a context that many of us have experienced.

But through the genius of writer and director Sean Baker, you almost feel like you’ve lived through what Moonee is experiencing. Baker fully immerses you into her world, one in which the adults loom over the camera and the sky is shot as a wide, open expanse. The world seems so vast from the perspective of a child, and, through Baker’s talent with the camera, that’s exactly how the viewer sees it.

Beyond the visual elements of the film, Baker also manages to blend perfect childhood innocence with the realities of poverty in America. Moonee plays in abandoned houses with her friends, which to them seem like a playground, but to us are yet more failed housing developments in post-recession America.

It’s little signs like these, the bittersweet notes that surface throughout the film, that give an indication of what lies just beyond the periphery of Moonee’s world. You come to love Moonee, with all her sass and charm, but you know what hardship lies in her future and in the futures of all the real children who live a life like hers.

Movies are made to take you out of your own life and open your eyes to the different lived experiences of others. When a film truly does its job, you come out of it as a changed person with a better understanding of a small part of the world.

A good movie makes you empathize, not just sympathize — The Florida Project succeeded in doing this in every way, and it doesn’t need an Academy Award to tell me that.

Overlooked is a recurring feature in the Arts & Culture section where writers make the case for pieces of culture that don’t get the attention they deserve. To contribute, email arts@thevarsity.ca.

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