By Louis Chan
AsAmNews National Correspondent
A critically acclaimed film from an up and coming director begins rolling out in theaters around the United States today.
The Rider from director Chloe Zhao has been honored with the Directors’ Fortnight award at the 2017 Cannes International Film Festival. It has also been featured at the Sundance Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, New York Film Festival and Telluride Film Festival.
The Rider is the story of the comeback of a Native American cowboy who suffers a career-ending head injury when he was thrown off a bucking horse during a rodeo in Fargo, North Dakota. The movie is based on the real life story of Brady Jandreau who also stars in the film as Brady Blackburn. The Rider also stars Jandreau’s father Tim and his sister Lilly who lives with Asperger Syndrome.
This is Zhao’s second film set on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Her debut film premiered at the2015 Sundance Film Festival and Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. Songs My Brothers Taught Me received three nominations for the 2016 Independent Spirit Awards.
The 30-something Zhao grew up in Beijing, spent part of her childhood in London before going to high school in Los Angeles, college at Mount Holyoke near Boston and then attending film school at NYU.
“I was living in big cities most of my life and I was in my late 20s and I wanted to go somewhere that things are not moving so fast,” Zhao told AsAmNews in San Francisco as she dipped a bag of tea into the cup. “Just trying to figure out where I belong. At that point I had feelings toward the open space. Around that time, there were a lot of reports, young people struggled on the reservation. It’s not like a one moment kind of thing. It just started building up. So I took a trip out to South Dakota and during that trip, I felt very connected to the place.”
Zhao answered the question as Jandreau signed movie posters before the debut of their film at the San Francisco International film Festival last weekend. It had been a rough few days for Zhao. Her flight from Los Angeles was cancelled due to bad weather, forcing her to make the six hour drive to the Bay Area. Tired, she was ordered to evacuate the Fairmont Hotel the night before when a power outage hit.
A bit under the weather, she managed to complete a whirlwind schedule of media interviews. Her time with AsAmNews was the eighth she had been through that day. She was joined by Jandreau, who although not scheduled to speak with me, agreed to help Zhao get though the rest of the day.
Despite westerns which traditionally pit the cowboys against the Indians, Jandreau said he saw no contradiction of being a Native American cowboy.
“They(cowboys and Indians) live very close to each other for a long time,” he said. “Both work with land and animals historically. They’ve integrated so much . They’ve intermarried. Just like there’s people of mixed blood, there’s people of mixed cultures as well.”
Brady is a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. He met Zhao at a time she was looking for a story about Native American cowboys in the heartland of America. Zhao was fascinated by Jandreau’s story and decided to make a movie about his emotional and physical struggles.
“I think Pine Ridge is the kind of place to battle. You either like really really feel connected to it or its really not for you, wouldn’t you say,” Zhao asked as she turned to Jandreau who nodded in agreement. “For me I was immediately drawn to the place. Before I traveled a lot, I didn’t know where’s home. I still don’t,” Zhao confided.
Although the story was inspired by Jandreau’s story, Zhao considers The Rider fiction based on real life events. She discussed it with the actors prior to shooting and most agreed to change the character’s names.
“I like to change the name just so that there’s a comfort zone there because they are portraying characters not completely themselves,” explained Zhao.
“I’m like Chloe, Chloe I wouldn’t do that,” intejected Jandreau speaking about specific scenes. “She’s like well Brady Blackburn would.”
Jandreau sees more acting in his future, and Zhao agrees. In fact its possible Jandreau could be cast in Zhao’s next film which again will have a large cast of Native Americans.
It will be an historical Western about Bass Reeves, a nineteenth-century African American marshal in the Indian Territory. Unlike her first two films, comparatively this will be a big budget film. As she pointed out, battle scenes with hundreds of actors aren’t cheap. Neither is CGI, she joked.
Zhao’s rise comes at an optimum time. She considers herself a feminist and is aware of the buzz surrounding the Oscars and the lack of women-nominated directors. Still she is cautious.
“I want to make sure the people who work with me want to work with me-not to fill a quota. I understand each woman has to be an individual.”
Check your local listings for a theater near you to see The Rider.
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