Palm Springs International Film Festival names Zhao the first woman to win its Director of the Year prize.

By Joey Nolfi
January 25, 2021 at 11:00 AM EST
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Chloé Zhao is trekking into uncharted territory (sans van) for female filmmakers this awards season.

The critically lauded Nomadland helmer has made history as the first woman to receive the Palm Springs International Film Festival's Director of the Year prize at its Film Awards gala, the annual cinema event announced Monday.

Past recipients of the PSIFF's Director of the Year honor include eventual Oscar-winning or Oscar-nominated filmmakers like Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Babel, Birdman), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), David O. Russell (The Fighter), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood).

Festival Chairman Harold Matzner called Nomadland an "extremely unique" picture in a press release praising Zhao's talents, adding that it's "one of the most accomplished films of the year" that "captures the triumph of the human spirit."

Nomadland — about a woman, Fern (Frances McDormand), working through personal grief as she drifts through people and places across the American West in her trusty van — is widely expected to score a host of Oscar nominations in the months ahead. The film previously won major festival honors at the Venice International Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, taking top prizes (the Golden Lion and People's Choice Award, respectively) at both events at the tail end of 2020.

Ahead of its Oscars run, Zhao will release Nomadland to IMAX theaters on Jan. 29, followed by a simultaneous debut in select domestic theaters and on streaming giant Hulu beginning Feb. 19.

Though its awards division will still present major contenders with prizes this year (including the previously announced Promising Young Woman star Carey Mulligan), the Palm Springs International Film Festival will not hold a 2021 edition or awards gala due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Both are set to return in 2022.

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