Chloé Zhao’s third film, NOMADLAND, an exploration of modern-day van dwelling life on the road, World Premiered this weekend with simultaneous screenings on September 11th. Telluride Film Festival, which canceled its 47th edition due to the global pandemic, hosted a special “Telluride from Los Angeles” drive-in screening in Southern California featuring in-person Introduction and Q&A by Zhao, McDormand and real-life nomads cast in the film, Linda May, Swankie, Bob Wells and Derek Endres. Also, in attendance were producers Peter Spears, Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Cinematographer Joshua James Richards and book author Jessica Bruder.
The drive-in was set in a grassy parking lot outside the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, with over 300 cars, trailers and vans in attendance. Guests arrived early to order food from one of the 6 food trucks parked on the grounds. Julie Huntsinger, Director of the Telluride Film Festival welcomed the crowd and shared remarks about her relationship with Zhao (Zhao’s THE RIDER screened at the Festival) and Searchlight Pictures. McDormand and Zhao joined her on stage which ended with all cars honking with the excitement of so many of the real-life nomads in attendance. After the screening, KPCC The Frame’s John Horn moderated a Q&A with Zhao, McDormand and real-life nomads from the film, Linda May, Swankie, Bob Wells and Derek Endres.
Simultaneous screenings occurred at the 77th Venice International Film Festival and the 45th Toronto International Film Festival, both of which featured virtual introductions by producer, writer, editor, and director Zhao, and producer and actor Frances McDormand. In an unprecedented year where the Fall Festivals moved away from competing and worked in partnership, Searchlight Pictures coordinated the events in tandem with festival programmers to salute the spirit of collaboration.
The next morning the team awoke to the news that NOMADLAND won the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival, making Zhao the first female filmmaker to take Venice’ top prize since Sofia Coppola in 2010. Searchlight’s 2017 release THE SHAPE OF WATER also won the Golden Lion before its Oscar Best Picture win later that season.
Additionally, the New York Film Festival announced NOMADLAND as the Centerpiece Selection of the 58th edition of the festival which will screen on Saturday, September 26th at a drive-in in Queens and Brooklyn, leading into a domestic theatrical release December 4, 2020.
Zhao adapted NOMADLAND from journalist Jessica Bruder’s 2017 non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century following McDormand and producer Peter Spears’ acquisition of the literary adaptation rights shortly after publication. The film follows Fern (McDormand), a woman who, after 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 features real nomads Linda May, Swankie, and Bob Wells as Fern’s mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West.
NOMADLAND marks the first project between Zhao and Searchlight and the fifth between McDormand and Searchlight. McDormand won an Oscar for her performance in Martin McDonagh’s film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which Searchlight released globally in 2017.
NOMADLAND is produced by Frances McDormand (HBO’s Olive Kitteridge) Peter Spears (Call Me by Your Name), Mollye Asher (The Rider), Dan Janvey (Beasts of the Southern Wild), and Chloé Zhao (The Rider). In addition to McDormand, the film features David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck.). Zhao reunites with her cinematographer on The Rider, Joshua James Richards (God’s Own Country). The film features compositions by Italian composer Ludovico Maria Enrico Einaudi and film editing by Zhao. At Searchlight, the film was overseen by Presidents of Production Matthew Greenfield and David Greenbaum and Vice President of Production Taylor Friedman. Zhao is a film director, screenwriter, editor, and producer known for her work on her debut feature film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015), which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Her second feature film, The Rider (2017), received several accolades including nominations for Independent Spirit Award for Best Film and Best Director. Zhao directed the upcoming Marvel Studios release Eternals, set for release in 2021 by Walt Disney Studios.