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California’s Palm Springs Film Festival to honour Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao

Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland is film that captures triumph of human spirit, says Festival Chairperson Harold Matzner

The Palm Springs International Film Festival has announced that Chloé Zhao is the recipient of this year’s Director of the Year Award, for her critically acclaimed film Nomadland

Director and screenwriter Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland is a film that captures the triumph of the human spirit,” Festival Chairperson Harold Matzner said, “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.”

Matzner added, “Nomadland is one of the most accomplished films of the year, and we are delighted to honour our first female Director of the Year, Chloé Zhao!”

Past recipients of the Director of the Year Award include: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Babel, Birdman); Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave); Alexander Payne (Sideways); Jason Reitman (Up in the Air); David Russell (The Fighter); and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). 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 honouree, Carey Mulligan, who has been awarded the International Star Award, and Gary Oldman who has been awarded the Chairman’s Award.

The Festival’s Awards Gala will not take place as an in-person event this year. Instead, honouree selections will be announced to recognise this year’s great performances, and Entertainment Tonight will air a tribute to the honourees scheduled on 11 and 25 February.

Nomadland stars two-time Academy Award winner Frances McDormand (FargoThree Billboards Outside Ebbing; Missouri), Academy Award nominee David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck). It also features Charlene Swankie, Bob Wells and Linda May, all of whom appeared in Jessica Bruder’s acclaimed book, which Zhao adapted to the screen. 

The film centres on Fern (McDormand), who, following the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, packs her van and sets off on the road. Fern goes on to explore 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).

The film has already won much recognition, having bagged 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.

It also recently won Best Film from 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.

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. 

The film Nomadland received two IFP Gotham Awards, including Best Feature and the 2020 Audience Award. It also 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.

It will open in select IMAX locations on January 29, 2021, and in theatres and on Hulu on 19 February 2021.

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 New York University (NYU). 

As a writer, director and producer, her first feature film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015. Her second feature The Rider premiered at Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight in 2017, and won the Art Cinema Awards. Her next film is Eternals.

The Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) is one of the largest film festivals in North America, and welcomed 136,000 attendees last year for its line-up of new and celebrated international features and documentaries.

The Awards Gala honours the year’s best achievements in cinema in front of and behind the camera. The celebrated list of talents who have been honoured in recent years includes Cate Blanchett, Mary J. Blige, Sandra Bullock, Mariah Carey, George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Clint Eastwood.

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