Chloe Zhao becomes first woman to receive Palm Springs International Film Awards’ Director of the Year

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Director/Writer Chloé Zhao and Frances McDormand appear on the set of “Nomadland.” [Searchlight Pictures photo]

PALM SPRINGS, California – Chloé Zhao has been named the recipient of the Director of the Year Award from the Palm Springs International Film Awards.

The “Nomadland” helmer is the first female director to receive the Director of the Year honor in the 32-year history of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, according to Variety.

“Director and screenwriter Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland is a film that captures the triumph of the human spirit,” said festival Chairman Harold Matzner in a statement. “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!”

The Palm Springs International Film Festival and Film Awards Gala will not take place as in-person events this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But “Entertainment Tonight” will air a tribute to the honorees, scheduled on Feb. 11 and 25, according to a news release.

Zhao joins this year’s previously announced honorees Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”), who will receive the International Star Award, and Gary Oldman (“Mank”), who will garner the Chairman’s Award.

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 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 earned a Best Director Academy Award for “Birdman.”

Named the Alliance of Women Film Journalists’ Best Film of 2020, Zhao’s “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 nomads 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 and the Indiana Film Journalists Association, among others.

Additionally, Zhao was named Best Director by AWFJ, 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 two 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” opened in select IMAX locations on Jan. 29. It will debut in theaters and on Hulu on Feb. 19.

Zhao was born in Beijing, China, and she was raised there as well as in Brighton, England. After moving to the United States, 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 Marvel’s “Eternals,” currently set to debut in theaters on Nov. 5.


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