“For me what resonated most with Fern is her ability to persevere and to find a sense of self in solitude in nature, and whilst having a community to support her, but ultimately she’s able to find peace in solitude,” says writer-director Chloe Zhao about her connection to the main character played by Frances McDormand in “Nomadland.” She discussed that film with Eugene Hernandez, director of the New York Film Festival where “Nomadland” was the Centerpiece Selection. Watch their virtual Q&A above.
She could relate to Fern’s journey: “I left home when I was very young, on my own, and I’m an only child as well. I’ve been a bit of a loner most of my life … Those experiences shaped me as a filmmaker.” she explains. “I spent a lot of time in the past on my own on the road, driving through the American West, and when I read [Jessica Bruder‘s book on which the film is based] I realized the world of nomadic living is so expansive and colorful.”
The film’s themes are even more impactful now amid the COVID-19 health crisis that has forced so many of us apart from each other. “I didn’t expect the pandemic to be part of the conversation when I first made the film,” she admits, “but I thought that is a strong message regardless.” And not only does the film reflect the solitude many Americans are feeling right now, it also highlights the economic precariousness many are also living through: Fern is a widow set adrift after her factory town collapsed, taking odd jobs where and when she can find them, cleaning bathrooms, flipping burgers, or hoisting packages at an Amazon warehouse.
That story has certainly struck a chord with viewers so far, winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and then the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, in addition to its selection at NYFF. It may very well be bound for Oscars in this unusual, isolated pandemic awards season.
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