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The Hollywood Insider Sean Baker, Palme dor Winner 77th Cannes Film Festival 2024

This past week at Cannes Film Festival, American filmmaker, Sean Baker, took home one of the most prestigious film festival awards that directors can only dream of—the Palme d’Or award. The Palme d’Or is the highest award at Cannes, with past winners including ‘Anatomy of a Fall’ and ‘Parasite’. While Baker’s films seem as though they are reaching their mainstream attention, Baker’s past successes in direction have truly demonstrated that he is one of his generation’s greatest directors.

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WHO IS SEAN BAKER

Sean Baker is a writer and director from Summit, New Jersey. After studying at NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts, Baker began creating low-budget features and gaining notoriety in the film world. His first feature, ‘Four Letter Words’, was written, directed, and edited all by Baker. His films each proved themselves innovative, with his second film telling a story of immigration and his third about a New York street vendor finding out he had a son.

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FROM LOS ANGELES TO FLORIDA

Baker’s first hit film was entitled ‘Tangerine’. ‘Tangerine’ tells the story of a transgender sex worker in Los Angeles, California that finds out her boyfriend and pimp has been cheating on her. One of the reasons ‘Tangerine’ is so notable is the way it was filmed. Since Baker was working with low-budget equipment, the film was filmed on three iPhone 5S cameras with a few small stabilizers to hold the phones. Baker was and still is praised for his innovative filmmaking technique. One of the more notable elements of ‘Tangerine’, as well as the majority of Baker’s films, is that his films don’t feel like you’re necessarily watching a movie. ‘Tangerine’ feels like you are watching people live their lives, almost like you are getting the real scoop on the drama surrounding these Los Angeles women. 

Most likely Baker’s most popular film, ‘The Florida Project’ has been met with both audience and critical acclaim. ‘The Flordia Project’ tells the story of young children who live in the motels of Orlando, Florida. This film was a breakout for Sean Baker, as well as much of the cast. ‘The Florida Project’ premiered at Cannes Film Festival in 2017 within the Director’s Fortnight section. Brooklyn Prince and Willem Dafoe’s performances were met with rave reviews, as Prince won the Critic’s Choice Movie Award for Best Young Performers. Dafoe was met with Best Supporting Actor nods at the Oscars, Golden Globes, SAG Awards, Critics Choice Awards, and BAFTA Awards.

Baker’s most recent film ‘Anora’ is the latest film of conversation, as this is the film that won the Palm D’Or at Cannes Film Festival 2024. ‘Anora’ is a comedic drama about an exotic dancer who falls in love with a Russian oligarch. ‘Anora’ received a 10-minute standing ovation at Cannes, and is the first American film since 2011 to win the Palm D’Or since 2011. While most of Baker’s films have been distributed by A24, ‘Anora’ will be distributed by FilmNation Entertainment in North America, where many fans of Baker’s work are eagerly awaiting to see the film. 

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TOUGH TOPICS AND AUTHENTICITY

One of the appeals of Sean Baker’s work is that he gives a voice to the voices that are usually unheard of in Hollywood. Most directors wouldn’t even think of giving a child of extreme poverty or a t-shirt seller as a compelling film subject. Sean Baker, however, is different. He can find an authentic story in anything. He can make complexity out of what may seem like a simple subject. Baker makes the unnoticed noticed. Through these complicated subjects, Baker’s directorial and writing style is incredibly authentic, which is something that many audiences appreciate. Each of his films truly just feels like you are watching someone live, rather than watching a movie. The casting decisions surrounding these films also is a huge help, opting to find certain cast members on Instagram, rather than a typical audition.

The way Baker handles tough subjects is also one of his most compelling attributes as a filmmaker. One of the topics that Baker deals heavily with is sex work, which is a difficult topic to navigate in a film. Not to mention, many of his subjects in this regard are women, and Sean Baker is a man. While this could be something that could end up problematic and exploitative, Baker is able to handle these issues in a sensitive manner. He brings an empathetic look into these lives and is compassionate with his portrayal of this line of work. While sex-work in film is not something that is new to Hollywood, Baker’s approach is. Baker has admitted that he has taken inspiration from exploitation films, but his films are not exploitative. They are human, much like the people he is portraying and the actors portraying them.

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While it may be a few months before audiences can see ‘Anora’, Baker is still able to make an impact on the film world and his fans throughout his filmography. Sean Baker is unique in his directing style, focusing on authenticity and showing the human experience in his films. His films focus on these slices of life, having unintentionally funny moments and demonstrating the human side of the unvoiced. ‘Anora’ is expected to be a hit upon theatrical release, and it will no doubt be one of Baker’s biggest films.

 

By Abigail Johnson

Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Cinema, TV and Media. An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, We have the space and time for all your stories, no matter who/what/where you are. Media/Cinema/TV have a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so. Talent, diversity and authenticity matter in Cinema/TV, media and storytelling. In fact, I reckon that we should announce “talent-diversity-authenticity-storytelling-Cinema-Oscars-Academy-Awards” as synonyms of each other. We show respect to talent and stories regardless of their skin color, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, etc., thus allowing authenticity into this system just by something as simple as accepting and showing respect to the human species’ factual diversity. We become greater just by respecting and appreciating talent in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Award winners, which includes nominees, must be chosen on the greatness of their talent ALONE.

I am sure I am speaking for a multitude of Cinema lovers all over the world when I speak of the following sentiments that this medium of art has blessed me with. Cinema taught me about our world, at times in English and at times through the beautiful one-inch bar of subtitles. I learned from the stories in the global movies that we are all alike across all borders. Remember that one of the best symbols of many great civilizations and their prosperity has been the art they have left behind. This art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, architecture, writings, inventions, etc. For our modern society, Cinema happens to be one of them. Cinema is more than just a form of entertainment, it is an integral part of society. I love the world uniting, be it for Cinema, TV, media, art, fashion, sport, etc. Please keep this going full speed.”

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