The glitz, the glamor, the surgical masks! Welcome to the 77th Venice International Film Festival, COVID-19 edition.
Coronavirus has inevitably been destructive to the film industry — actors and directors getting sick, projects at a stand-still and everyone working from home. So when Venice opened, I was intrigued. How would a festival logistically work in a pandemic?
To say the least, it was surreal. There were hand sanitizer stations, everyone wore masks, seats were spread out and there were temperature checks to get in and out of the theater. Attendees movements inside the venue were traced via scanned passes.
Despite these seemingly strange, but necessary, safety precautions, the festival was a roaring success. Most of the attendees were crying happy, sad and relieved tears. The pandemic has also put a wrench in other activities for film lovers. Most notably, we have been cut off from our heartbeats — movie theaters.
As a kid, I would go with my grandma as my weekly treat to the movies. With a Coca-Cola Icee and a box of extra-buttery popcorn, it was time for me to settle in for an hour and a half to escape into another world.
While we do live in the age of streaming, there’s something nostalgic about sitting in a theater and enjoying the magic of cinema. Venice’s opening this year gives me hope that the entertainment industry can and will survive as a community during these trying times.
Now, onto the champion of the festival: Golden Lion winner Chloé Zhao.
Director Chloé Zhao’s movie “Nomadland” won her the Golden Lion award this year at Venice. “Nomadland” stars Frances McDormand as a widow named Fern, who makes a grand trip across the American West in her van to find herself after an economic crash in her mining town.
According to coverage from BBC culture columnist Caryn James, Frances McDormand’s performance draws the viewer in with her emotionally vulnerable performance. Zhao included real people living as nomads in the film, giving many of them supporting roles in the movie. Including real people along with actors creates an authentic, almost documentary-esque feeling in the film.
The movie features many shots of Fern alone in her van traveling the American West. These scenes hint at her independence but also at loneliness, which tend to go hand in hand. The story of a character feeling left behind due to economic circumstances is pertinent in our society today and makes the film relatable to many viewers.
The film will be released on Dec. 4, 2020. I haven’t been able to view the film yet since it isn’t out to the public, but the reviews are absolutely glowing.
Zhao stated in an article in the South China Morning Post that she wants to make movies that have universal themes. Even if she’s making a film about the American West, she wants her family back home in China to relate to the characters. She has been praised for achieving this effect in “Nomadland” perfectly, creating a universal feeling of isolation and self-exploration and authentic characters.
Zhao’s fascination with depicting the lives of outsiders can be seen in her other movies like “The Rider” and “Songs My Brother Taught Me,” which tell stories of Native Americans on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. She grew up in Beijing, then lived in England and now lives in the United States. Zhao received her master’s in film production from New York University and is one of the most prominent female directors right now.
She’s the fifth woman to ever win the Golden Lion and the first Asian woman to ever win the award. As a woman who’s planning on going into the film industry, seeing Zhao’s success warms my heart. I love to see women harnessing their creativity and talent to make thought-provoking films.
Hollywood is traditionally male-dominated, where there are constantly more male directors on projects than female and women feel like they aren’t being recognized or taken seriously by the industry. Zhao is blazing a new path for empowered women to join this space and receive the credit they deserve for the exceptional work they produce.
Much like Venice’s opening gave me hope that the film industry will live another day, Zhao’s winning the Golden Lion makes me optimistic for female representation in the future. While it is always an uphill battle in Hollywood, we should expect to see more women on the scene. Zhao is a rising star, and we should all be ready to see her name this year at the Oscars as a Best Picture nominee.
Anna Tolkien CM ’24 is one of TSL’s pop culture columnists. She’s a media studies and literature dual major, and loves her pugs, iced-coffee and Timothée Chalamet movies.