Chloé Zhao (Beijing, 39 years old) has spent in little more than five years being a debut director at the Sundance festival, where in 2015 she premiered Songs My Brothers Taught Me, to choose to become the second filmmaker in history to win the Oscar for best direction, for Nomadland, have a Marvel movie to release and be the kind of prominent Hollywood figure who chooses the project that takes his fancy (and he already has the next one: a version of Dracula). At dawn on Monday, Zhao can get up to four statuettes: as producer of the best film, director – she is the favorite after having won the Golden Globe, the Bafta and the Directors Guild award -, screenwriter and editor. In an interview in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the filmmaker confessed: “I’m curious about how people want to be remembered.” In her case, if she took all four statuettes, there would be no doubt: as one chosen for glory.
Zhao says that there is a political point of view in the film, although it is not shown as clearly as in the book on which it is based, Nomadic country, by Jessica Bruder (Captain Swing). “I think that this nomadic life should be an option, and not an imposition forced by the economy in the richest country in the world,” he told the US press about the life of Fern, a former teacher who moves through the US in a van looking for temporary jobs. It is likely that it is them and Frances McDormand (the leading actress sought out Zhao to direct the film) to whom I dedicate any of the statuettes.
Actually, he hasn’t stopped collecting awards since Nomadland began its journey at the Toronto and Venice festivals, where it won the Golden Lion. Today it would not be so well received in its native country because of an old statement: years ago in the magazine Filmmaker, They asked him about his interest in shooting his first feature film on an Indian reservation, and Zhao replied, “It reminded me of my adolescence in China, when I lived in a place where lies are everywhere.”
Zhao was born as Ting Zhao in Beijing in March 1982. The daughter of one of the directors of the state steel company Shougang Group and a hospital worker, she was divorced from her parents as a child. His father became a prominent real estate executive and married Song Dandan, a very popular actress in his country with titles such as The House of Flying Daggers. At the age of 14, Zhao entered a boarding school in the United Kingdom, and studied secondary school in Los Angeles, where she lived alone in an apartment in the Korean district.
A modern version of John Wayne
In 2010 he began studying film at New York University, where he had Spike Lee as a professor. For pleasure he had already filmed two shorts, and in college he shot two more. With the first, Daughters (2010), won the award for best student short film at the Palm Spring festival. As a final thesis, he faced Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015), a drama about Native Americans on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. There the camera fell on one of his companions, Joshua James Richards, who from that moment is his director of photography and his partner. The film premiered at Sundance and the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes, and garnered three nominations at the Spirit Awards for Independent Film. He had come a long way for a student job, long enough to lift his next pitch, The Rider (2017).
Trailer for ‘The Rider’, by Chloé Zhao.
This is the film that catapulted Zhao’s career, and the one that Frances McDormand took notice of when looking for a director to adapt the book. Nomadic country, the one who had bought the rights. The story of a rodeo cowboy who has to rethink his life after a brutal head accident occurred to Zhao when he met, looking for locations in South Dakota, to Brady Jandreau, who had suffered a similar experience. The filmmaker decided to write her story and have him star in it himself. The film reaffirmed Zhao’s passion for the western and great landscapes. On InterviewShe told filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón: “When I was a child in Beijing, I loved to travel to Mongolia. In my New York years I felt a bit lost, and I joked with the idea that, in the United States, when you feel like this, you travel to the West. I enjoyed the filming of The Rider in Dakota, with a dusty floor that has never been touched, that makes you feel old and immobile, as if time stood still. For me, who spent so many years going from one place to another, that feeling is very pleasant “. So now, Zhao and Richards live in Ojai, in the Californian mountains of Topatopa, surrounded by dogs and chickens. Although during the filming of Nomadland for five states they spent as many months living in a Ford Transit van, following in the footsteps of McDormand’s character, “which is a modern version of John Wayne.”
Zhao is pending a premiere on November 5 The eternals, a Marvel film with Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek and Richard Madden. “I always wanted to be a manga artist”, has counted in the promotion of Nomadland. “But I will return to small budget cinema, because what motivates me are the stories.” Now he is writing for Universal your version of Dracula from which it has only transpired that it is a futuristic western. On Sunday, if she wins the Hollywood award for best director, she will be the second woman behind Kathryn Bigelow (with The hurt Locker, 2008) to do so, and the first non-Caucasian — obviously the first Asian — to do so. In the history of the Oscars there have only been five nominated directors. This year, Zhao and Emerald Fennell (A promising young woman) they have raised to seven a figure that continues to seem meager.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.