By Diana Cheng
AAP Film & Arts Writer
Chinese American director Chloé Zhao’s third feature ‘Nomadland’ won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, a scaled down and mostly virtual event which ended Sunday, September 20.
Based on Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century”, Zhao’s film is a docudrama on the modern day nomads in America, people living in their vans, trailers, or RV’s in the Western States.
CamperForce is the term referring to this labor source made up of mostly seniors in their 60’s and 70’s, itinerant workers at camp grounds, harvest fields, and Amazon warehouses. While some took to the road after the 2008 recession fallout, many of them are nomads at heart, sustaining a lifestyle of anti-consumerism and self-sufficiency.
‘Nomadland’ establishes Zhao as a distinct voice in American filmmaking, blending documentary with fiction. She involves real-life nomads Bruder chronicles in her book, placing them alongside two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand as a vandweller among them. McDormand’s performance is spot-on in her self-effacing role.
Shot in five different states, Zhao’s feature echoes the unconventional and unique style as in her previous works, “Songs my Brothers Taught Me” (2015) filmed in a South Dakota Indian Reservation and “The Rider” (2017), the internationally acclaimed feature starring real-life bronco riders.
The TIFF’s Grolsch People’s Choice Award is known as a strong predictor of Oscar Best Picture in the subsequent year. Previous winners that has gone all the way to snatch the Oscar gold include “The King’s Speech” (2010), “12 Years a Slave” (2013), and “Green Book” (2018). Just a week earlier, “Nomadland” had also won the Golden Lion, top prize at the Venice Film Festival. This is the first time a film garnering both honors.
In another category, Tiffany Hsiung’s short “Sing Me a Lullaby” won the inaugural IMDb Pro Short Cuts Share Her Journey Award. Hsiung shot the film over 15 years, describing a family journey of her mother seeking for her birth mother in Taiwan. The Chinese Canadian filmmaker’s previous feature is the acclaimed documentary “The Apology” (2016) about three surviving comfort women, girls taken as sex slaves during WWII in Japanese occupied Asia.
One more winner of Asian descent is director Roseanne Liang’s “Shadow in the Cloud” which took away the Grolsch People’s Choice Award for Midnight Madness.