77th Venice Film Festival Gives ‘Nomadland’ Golden Lion, Kicking Off Awards Season

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Photo Source: Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

The Frances McDormand–starring American drama “Nomadland” has won the coveted Golden Lion award at the 77th Venice Film Festival in Italy, the world’s first major film event to go ahead with live audiences since the COVID-19 outbreak. The road movie, directed by U.S.-based Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao, stars the award-winning actor as a widow traveling across America in a van following the 2008 financial crash. 

Zhao is the first female director to win the top film prize at Venice since Sofia Coppola won with “Somewhere” in 2010. Zhao is also the first woman of color to win the Golden Lion since “Monsoon Wedding” director Mira Nair triumphed in 2001.

Australian producer-star Cate Blanchett presided over the jury of the festival’s 77th edition, which hosted screenings Sept. 2–12 with social distancing, masks, temperature checks, and other COVID-19 safety measures in place. It is the first major celebration of cinema to take place since the Berlin International Film Festival in February, and was roundly hailed a success by those who attended.

During the awards ceremony Sept. 12, Zhao and McDormand accepted the top prize remotely from Los Angeles’ Rose Bowl, where the film was set to be shown as a drive-in screening. “Thank you so much for letting us come to your festival in this weird, weird, weird world and way,” said McDormand via webcam. “Nomadland” also debuted to strong reviews at the 45th Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 11; as planned, the two festivals shared the premiere in a show of solidarity as such events press ahead in the face of the ongoing pandemic.

Searchlight Pictures will release “Nomadland” in the U.S. on Dec. 4 amid film awards season. Given the Venice fest’s recent track record with Oscar hopefuls, the film is likely to fare well at the 2021 Academy Awards; Zhao could potentially become the first woman of color, and sixth ever woman, to receive a directing nomination. It could also win McDormand her third Oscar, following triumphs with “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” in 2018 and “Fargo” in 1997.

Venice has marked the beginning of the road to the Oscars in recent years, with Golden Lion winners “The Shape of Water,” “Roma,” and “Joker” all nominated for best picture. “The Shape of Water,” also distributed by Searchlight, won the top Oscar in 2017.

The festival awarded its Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize to Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco for his dystopian thriller “New Order.” The director accepted the trophy in-person at the ceremony, where around half the seats were left empty to maintain safety measures. Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa received the best director award for espionage drama “Wife of a Spy,” while best screenplay went to Chaitanya Tamhane for writing Indian drama “The Disciple.”

Vanessa Kirby was awarded the Best Actress Volpi Cup for playing a woman grieving the loss of her baby in Kornél Mundruczó’s “Pieces of a Woman.” The British actor is known for playing Princess Margaret in Netflix drama “The Crown”; the streaming giant secured the worldwide distribution rights to “Pieces of a Woman,” which also stars Shia LaBeouf, during the festival. Kirby also stars in Mona Fastvold’s period drama “The World to Come,” which also screened in competition at Venice this year.

Italy’s Pierfrancesco Favino won the Best Actor Volpi Cup for his leading role in Claudio Noce’s terrorist thriller “Padrenostro.” Russia’s Andrei Konchalovsky was awarded the Special Jury Prize for historical drama “Dear Comrades!” while Iranian teenager Rouhollah Zamani won the Marcello Mastroianni award for best young actor for his performance in Majid Majidi’s “Sun Children.” As previously announced, British star Tilda Swinton and Hong Kong filmmaker Ann Hui received Venice’s honorary Golden Lions for lifetime achievement.

For more results and information, visit Venice Biennale’s website. Check out Backstage’s guide to the Venice Film Festival here.

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