Films Chloe Zhao Taught Me
Last Sunday, Chloe Zhao picked up another Best Director award to add to her quickly expanding collection. This time, at the BAFTAs, where Zhao is the first woman of colour to win in the category. Her film, Nomadland, also secured Best Film, Best Actress (Frances McDormand) and Best Cinematography (Joshua James Richards).
I like to follow awards season fairly closely for a few reasons; I am a voter for BIFA (British Independent Film Awards), and I love the process, I am a sucker for a good red-carpet gown, believe that the awards are a reflection of what is valued in the film industry in a particular moment (this can often be eye-opening and disappointing), and the season does have a noticeable effect on what performs well in cinemas. There have been many years where I have felt dispirited by the nominations and awards, with so much talent overlooked. Still, I can say with my whole heart that I am over the moon to watch Chloe Zhao winning over and over again.
I’m not going to write about Nomadland today, though that article will probably be coming, a little closer to the time cinemas might be open. This week, I’d like to turn your attention to Zhao’s debut feature, Songs My Brother’s Taught Me, which never received a UK release, but is currently streaming on MUBI.
Songs My Brother’s Taught Me follows older brother John and younger sister Jashaun as they deal with the grief of losing an absentee father, and try to carve out paths for their futures. It was shot and set at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and uses mostly non-professional actors: real people, playing approximations of themselves. This lends a depth of authenticity to the film, allowing it to lean into a more lyrical form without losing its grit and realism. Where it’s not as accomplished as The Rider or Nomadland, you can feel the strength of Zhao’s voice shining through - there’s a magic to it. It’s incredible to think of how far Zhao has come in six short years, making films that feel entirely her own, that get more distinct as her career develops. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Songs My Brother’s Taught Me is available to stream on MUBI for subscribers. A subscription costs £9.99 per month, but you can get three months of free MUBI by supporting us with a paid Showroom Membership.
This article first featured in the Sheffield Telegraph on Thursday 14 April 2021.