With “The Florida Project,” director Sean Baker (“Tangerine”) and Mexican cinematographer Alexis Zabe (“Silent Light”) turned a unique coming-of-age movie about kids living on the fringe of Orlando’s Disney World into “blueberry ice cream with a sour twist.” The movie is a freewheeling “pop verité” of broken dreams built around a cast of mostly non-professionals, and set in a makeshift purple motel appropriately called “The Magic Castle.” But it’s the push-pull between rambunctious six-year-old newcomer Brooklynn Prince and tenderhearted hotel manager Willem Dafoe that propels the drama.

Pop Goes the Verité

And 35mm anamorphic film was the perfect choice to evoke the soft, creamy, imperfect aesthetic Baker was after. “There are fewer and fewer opportunities to work on 35 and I really treasure it,” said Zabe, who shot with the Panavision Millennium xl2 and old E series lenses. “It changes the whole dynamic on set and it plays better because of the moving grain and the mechanics of the camera. And when I talked to Sean about the mindset of the movie, we wanted to see the world as [the kids] see it. The metaphor was ice cream and colors and textures were surprising.”

Baker and Zabe talked about Italian neo-realism and the French new wave and the need for flexibility. But first they made a fashion short for Kenzo together, “Snowbird,” shot on the iPhone in several trailer homes in the California desert community of Slab City. It served as a great tune-up for “The Florida Project.”