By Tyler Aquilina
September 12, 2020 at 03:28 PM EDT
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Joshua Richardson/Searchlight Pictures

Chloé Zhao made history at a Venice Film Festival that was already quite historic, as one of the first major festivals to hold in-person screenings since the COVID-19 pandemic's outbreak worldwide. The Eternals director became the first woman in a decade to win the festival's top prize, taking the prestigious Golden Lion for her film Nomadland.

The drama stars Frances McDormand as a widow in a Nevada mining town devastated in the wake of the Great Recession, who decides to embrace life on the road. The film, which premiered at Venice and the Toronto International Film Festival on the same day, is only the fifth movie directed by a woman to win the Golden Lion, and the first since Sofia Coppola's Somewhere in 2010. Nearly half of this year's main competition titles at Venice were helmed by women, a major step forward for the festival in terms of representation.

In stark contrast to last year's winner, Joker, Nomadland has earned unanimous critical praise so far, including from EW's Leah Greenblatt, who called it "a film that feels both necessary and sublime."

Meanwhile at Venice, Vanessa Kirby claimed the Best Actress prize for Pieces of a Woman, edging out McDormand's acclaimed performance. New Order, from Mexican director Michel Franco, took the runner-up Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize. This year's jury, including president Cate Blanchett, handed out the prizes in a half-empty theater, with many winners accepting their awards virtually in light of the pandemic.

The festival instituted major alterations in the name of health and safety this year, including temperature checks and outdoor screenings limited to half capacity, while requiring social distancing and mask-wearing. While Venice is traditionally a major launchpad for Oscar season, it remains to be seen what this year's awards season will look like as many theatrical releases remain in limbo.

See the full list of winners from the Venice International Film Festival below.

Golden Lion: Nomadland, dir. Chloé Zhao

Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize: Michael Franco, New Order

Silver Lion Best Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Wife of a Spy

Volpi Cup for Best Actress: Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman

Volpi Cup for Best Actor:  Pierfrancesco Favino, Padrenostro

Best Screenplay Award: Chaitanya Tamhane, The Disciple 

Special Jury Prize: Dear Comrades, dir. Andrey Konchalovskiy

Marcello Mastroianni Award for Young Actor: Rouhallah Zamani, Sun Children

Horizons Awards

Best Film: The Wasteland, dir.  Ahmad Bahrami

Best Director: Lav Diazm Genus Pan

Special Jury Prize: Listen, dir. Ana Rocha de Sousa

Best Actress: Khansa Batma, Zanka Contact

Best Actor: Yahya Mahayni, The Man Who Sold His Skin

Best Screenplay: Pietro Castellitto, The Predators

Best Short Film: Entre Tu Y Milagros, dir. Mariana Saffon

Lion of the Future Luigi De Laurentiis Award for a Debut Film: Listen, dir. Ana Rocha de Sousa

Venice Virtual Reality Competition

Best VR Immersive Story: Killing A Superstar, dir. Fan Fan

Best VR Immersive Experience: Finding Pandora, dir. Kiira Benzing

Best VR Immersive Work: The Hangman at Home - An Immersive Single User Experience, dir. Michelle and Uri Kranot

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