Sean Baker, fringe and low-budget filmmaker

By Clementine Goldszal

Posted today at 12:18 a.m., updated at 2:55 p.m.

Sean Baker, in Vancouver, Canada, on January 4, 2022.

It is his seventh feature film in twenty-two years of career, but the name of Sean Baker has imposed itself on moviegoers only recently. In 2015, Tangerine, shot with an iPhone, described with verve, poetry and humor the world of trans prostitutes on Santa Monica Boulevard, in Los Angeles. Presented at the Sundance Film Festival, acclaimed by critics, nominated for several independent film awards and promoted (unsuccessfully) during the Oscar campaign, the film made its director a new darling.

Sean Baker’s guerrilla cinema, close to documentary in its way of recounting the world of the underprivileged with the help of often non-professional actors, seemed to open a new window capable of satisfying moviegoers nostalgic for New Hollywood cinema. or John Cassavetes. Released two years later Tangerine, The Florida Project, chronicle of the daily life of a 6-year-old girl and her unemployed mother in a motel close to the Walt Disney World Resort, in Florida, was screened at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, nominated for the Golden Globes and the Oscars. The film grossed almost six times its original budget ($2 million, around €1.8 million).

Immersed among drug users

Sean Baker, born in 1971 in New Jersey and graduated in cinema from New York University, was finally entering the big leagues. Was he, like his sidekick Chloé Zhao, going to give in to the sirens of the superhero film, always eager for new “cool” signatures? “I repeated so much in interviews that I didn’t want to do franchises that Hollywood doesn’t make eyes at me! he says during a videoconference interview from his apartment in Los Angeles. After The Florida Project, I was preparing to make a movie with more money, but when I say more money, it’s 10 million dollars, not 150.” He therefore spent two years immersed in the community of drug users in Vancouver, Canada, but the pandemic put this project on hold. And Baker finds himself again in the margin and the small budgets. Which, he says, doesn’t bother him that much.

Shot in twenty-three days for $1 million (for comparison, Licorice Pizza, the new film by Paul Thomas Anderson, cost 40, and Spider-Man : No Way Home, the biggest hit of 2021, 200), Red Rocket, like all of Sean Baker’s films, benefits from a neat aesthetic and a very fine cast of anonymous people. In small-town Texas, handsome but totally bonkers comeback pornstar Mikey tries to reconnect with his ex-wife, while earning a few bucks selling weed to local refinery workers and by seducing the very young waitress of the local donut store, to whom he dangles a career as a porn star in California.

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