Ojai resident Chloé Zhao wrote and directed Nomadland, recipients of Best Picture and Best Director Oscars at the 2020 Academy Awards. Zhao makes a special appearance at the 2021 Ojai Film Festival on Saturday, November 13 at 7 pm. A screening of her 2017 film The Rider precedes a Q&A with Director Zhao, followed by a reception, all at the Ojai Art Center.
Growing up in Beijing Zhao felt drawn to influences from Western pop culture. She attended a boarding school in London before moving to Los Angeles to finish high school. She worked odd jobs as a party promoter, in real estate, and bartending before studying film production at New York University Tisch School of the Arts.
In 2010, Zhao’s short film, Daughters, premiered at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival and won Best Student Live Action Short at the 2010 Palm Springs International ShortFest and Special Jury Prize at the 2010 Cinequest Film Festival.
Zhao directed her first feature film in 2015, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, which premiered as part of the US Dramatic Competition at Sundance Film Festival. It later played at Cannes Film Festival as part of the Director’s Fortnight selection.
Next Zhao wrote, produced, and directed The Rider, an American contemporary western drama shot in the Badlands of South Dakota. The film won the Art Cinema Award at the Cannes Film Festival and received Independent Spirit Award nominations for Best Film and Best Director. Rotten Tomatoes wrote: “[The film’s] hard-hitting drama is only made more effective through writer-director Chloé Zhao’s use of untrained actors to tell the movie’s fact-based tale.”
The Rider follows a young cowboy’s journey of self-discovery after a near-fatal accident ends his professional bronc riding career. Zhao engaged a cast of non-actors who lived on the ranch where she shot the film. Her inspiration came from a cowboy she befriended on the reservation where she filmed Songs My Brothers Taught Me.
CHLOÉ ZHAO DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR AT PALM SPRINGS AWARDS
Palm Springs, CA (January 25, 2021) – The Palm Springs International Film Awards has announced that Chloé Zhao is the recipient of the Director of the Year Award for Nomadland.
“Director and screenwriter Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland is a film that captures the triumph of the human spirit,” said Festival Chairman Harold Matzner. “This extremely unique and well-done film captures the grand landscapes of the American West as it follows Fern, played by Frances McDormand, who hits the road in her camper van moving from one real encampment of present-day nomads to another. Nomadland is one of the most accomplished films of the year and we are delighted to honor our first female Director of the Year, Chloé Zhao!”
Zhao was born in Beijing, China, where she was raised and also in Brighton, England. After moving to the US, she studied Politics at Mt Holyoke College and Film Production at NYU. As a writer, director, and producer, her first feature Songs My Brothers Taught Me premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2015 and her second feature The Rider premiered at Cannes Film Festival’s Director’s Fortnight in 2017 and won the Art Cinema Awards. Her next film is Eternals.
Past recipients of the Director of the Year Award include Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Babel, Birdman), Steve Mc Queen (12 Years a Slave), Alexander Payne (Sideways), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), David O. Russell (The Fighter) and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) who all went on to receive Best Director Academy Award nominations. Iñárritu received a Best Director Academy Award for Birdman.
Zhao joins this year’s previously announced honoree Carey Mulligan (International Star Award) and Gary Oldman (Chairman’s Award). The Festival and Film Awards Gala will not take place as an in-person event this year, but honoree selections will be announced to recognize this year’s great performances and Entertainment Tonight will air a tribute to the honorees scheduled on February 11th and February 25th.
Nomadland stars two-time Academy Award winner Frances McDormand (Fargo; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Academy Award nominee David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck), and real-life actors Swankie, Bob Wells and Linda May, all of whom appeared in Jessica Bruder’s acclaimed book, which Zhao adapted to the screen. Nomadland centers on Fern (McDormand), who, following the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. The film was produced by McDormand (Olive Kitteridge), Peter Spears (Call Me by Your Name), Dan Janvey (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Mollye Asher (The Rider), and Zhao (The Rider). Zhao also edited the film, with Joshua James Richards (God’s Own Country) serving as Director of Photography and Production Designer, and featuring the sound team of M. Wolf Snyder (The Rider), Sergio Diaz (Roma), and Zach Seivers (Assassins).
Nomadland, which won the Golden Lion for Best Film at this year’s Venice International Film Festival and the People’s Choice Audience Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, recently won Best Film from the Chicago Film Critics Association, the Boston Society of Film Critics, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, the Indiana Film Journalists Association, among others. Additionally, Zhao was named Best Director by the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the Chicago Film Critics Association, the Boston Society of Film Critics, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Indiana Film Journalists Association among others. Nomadland received 2 IFP Gotham Awards including Best Feature and the 2020 Audience Award, and won the coveted Golden Frog for Cinematography at the 2020 International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography Camerimage. The National Society of Film Critics awarded the film Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Cinematography.
Nomadland will open in select IMAX locations on January 29, 2021, and in theaters and on Hulu on February 19, 2021.
About The Palm Springs International Film Festival
The Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) is one of the largest film festivals in North America, welcoming 136,000 attendees last year for its lineup of new and celebrated international features and documentaries. The Festival is also known for its annual Film Awards Gala, a glamorous, black-tie event attended by 2,500, which is presented by American Express and sponsored by AT&T and Entertainment Tonight. The Film Awards Gala honors the year’s best achievements in cinema in front of and behind the camera. The celebrated list of talents who have been honored in recent years includes Cate Blanchett, Mary J. Blige, Sandra Bullock, Mariah Carey, George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, Cynthia Erivo, Jamie Foxx, Gal Gadot, Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson, Nicole Kidman, Regina King, Jennifer Lawrence, Rami Malek, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon and more. Awards are provided by Chihuly and John Kennedy Studios. Both events are produced by the Palm Springs International Film Society, whose mission is to nurture and encourage new filmmaking talent, honoring the great masters of world cinema, and expanding audience horizons.
The Palm Springs International Film Festival and Film Awards Gala will return in 2022. Palm Springs ShortFest is still scheduled for June 22-28, 2021. The Film Society has continued to host year-round member screenings and events virtually until theatres are able to open.