Arthouse Garage Podcast

Podcast Transcript for Episode 41: Nomadland

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Read the transcript below:

Andrew Sweatman 0:08
Hello Hello and welcome back to art house garage, the snob free film Podcast, where we make art house indie classic and foreign cinema accessible to the masses. I’m your host Andrew Sweatman, and today we are talking about an incredible new film called Nomad land. For season six of this podcast myself, along with a wide array of guests are looking at the best films of 2020. Some from earlier in the year some still to be released in the run up to award season, what is sure to be an unusual award season because of the pandemic. So far we’ve looked at David Fincher his latest manque kitty Green’s the assistant, a wonderfully personal and moving documentary from kearson. Johnson called dick Johnson is dead and more and coming up on future episodes. One night in Miami, which is the award winning directorial debut of Regina King on the rocks from Sofia Coppola. Plus, we have plans to talk about the new Pixar film Sol Kelly records first cow and many more exciting films ahead. Today we’re looking at Nomad land. You know, I think the first time I even heard of this in the same breath I heard possible Best Picture winner. It’s it’s had this incredible buzz around it from the beginning, it won major prizes at both the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, and most critics seem to adore it. The film was directed by Chloe Zhao, who had her breakout in 2018 with a film called The writer. The writer was praised for its strong performances from non professional actors, and for its really naturalistic style. Both of those things carry over here as well. Nomad land tells the story of Fern played beautifully by Francis McDormand, who has found herself without a home and kind of suddenly and unexpectedly on her own in her 60s, this desperate situation leads her to discover modern day nomadism a lifestyle that often involves living in an RV, finding work where you can, and living largely off the grid or at least outside of quote unquote normal society. Fern finds community with other nomads. And this is where it gets really interesting director Chloe Zhao has included many real life nomads in this film, and we see their actual vehicles which service their homes, and we hear many of their stories, how they came to choose life as a nomad. So it essentially sort of blends documentary into this fictional narrative. Along the way, we follow fearns relationships, we learn more about her family history, and we meet David played by David Strathairn. This film carries with it a strong commentary on the US and the economic situation of recent years. And more than that, it’s just masterfully put together incredibly emotionally affecting my guest today is filmmaker Marty Lang, who I’ve crossed paths with a number of times at various Arkansas film events, and who has an incredible amount of knowledge about film and film production. He’s a director, producer, actor, you name it. And he’s also a super nice guy. Great to talk to, and very insightful about movies. So without further ado, welcome to the podcast. Marty Lang. How are you?

Marty Lang 3:10
Hey, I’m good. How you doing Andrew,

Andrew Sweatman 3:11
doing very well. And I’m really excited to talk about Nomad land today. But before we do, I thought we might talk about some of your film projects. Since you’re a filmmaker. The thing that I watched most recently that you had a big hand in was the daily, which is a web series that well, you can tell us about it, but it follows a college journalism department and yet, tell us about the daily.

Marty Lang 3:37
Yeah, so I was fortunate enough to work with the UCA grad program in the spring. And we were able to write seven episode web series over winter break last year. And we were actually able to film three of the episodes of the seven before the pandemic shut us down. So those three episodes were actually completed. And we world premiere the pilot of it at Ceres fest and Denver in June. And then we played all three episodes for the first time that filmland about a month ago. So yeah, we’re really excited about it’s going out to a bunch of other festivals. So hopefully it’ll have a good festival around this coming year.

Andrew Sweatman 4:12
That’s great. And that’s where I saw it was it film land and I watched all three and really found it engrossing and it kind of a political thriller set in a in college was kind of the vibe of it. And I really, really connected to it and can’t wait to see more. So I hope you know the production’s able to get back going before too long. Do you know if that will be available at any point for kind of the general public after the fest?

Unknown Speaker 4:36
Well, our festival run will probably go through the first half of 2021. And then we’re actually trying to sell it to a streaming service so cool. There’s a new service out of Detroit called means TV. And they’re they’re taking a look at and we’re talking with them. The other thing that we’re talking with them about would be the possibility of them helping underwrite us filming the last four episodes. That’s great. We’re hoping we’ll be able to do that next summer. So that’s that’s something that we’re talking about right now.

Andrew Sweatman 5:06
That is very cool. And the world of web series is so interesting and kind of new to hear how that all work. So yeah, well, we’ll make sure to follow it. And then whenever links are available, when there’s news about it, I’ll definitely share on archives garage social media, because I’m anxious to see what becomes of it, because it’s really good. But what else is on your horizon? Any film projects you can tell us about?

Unknown Speaker 5:29
Yeah, I have. There’s actually three feature projects that I’m working on right now. I have a feature horror comedy that I produced. It’s called champion the girls. And that film is complete. We just finished it a couple of weeks ago. And that’s out to streaming services for a possible acquisition. So you might see that a couple months, which would be great. I’m in post on a feature that I co wrote and directed. That’s a drama called stay with me. And my editor, Jessie green, is actually based in Little Rock. So we’re working on that we should be picture locked on that in about a month or so. And then my third project is a feature I’m producing with two little rock filmmakers called Uniball. And I was that one.

Unknown Speaker 6:12
Yeah, it’s

Unknown Speaker 6:12
a dramedy about testicular cancer. So we’re really excited about that. I think that’s gonna be a really good film.

Andrew Sweatman 6:19
Yes, I am aware of Uniball which sounds so interesting. And yeah, so a lot of irons in the fire. That’s exciting. It’s good to hear that, you know, because the pandemic has caused so much confusion around what’s going to happen with the film industry, but sounds like people like you are able to keep busy, even with everything going on. So that’s great news to hear.

Marty Lang 6:36
It’s it’s a way to keep from going insane.

Andrew Sweatman 6:39
Yes, more of I should try that because we all get something. Well, that is all really exciting. I guess without further ado, let’s talk about Nomad land.

Unknown Speaker 7:18
Join us, Tom, just

Unknown Speaker 7:20
walk back them.

Andrew Sweatman 7:44
Alright, let’s talk about Nomad lamp. So this was directed by Chloe Zhao, Chinese director who had her breakout in 2017. With the film The writer, one of the things that she does that’s really interesting is she kind of brings in real people from the setting in which the story takes place. So in Nomad land, we have Frances mcdorman, she plays a woman who has lost her husband, and who also has recently lost her hometown, which is basically all all but disappeared. due to economic recession, she ends up choosing a life as a nomad. And she interacts with some real life nomads along the way. And the film explores kind of the Nomad lifestyle, why people choose it, the challenges that come along with it, you know, so she’s living out of her vehicle and traveling around and finding work where she can. So it’s a really interesting look at a subculture that I didn’t know much about. So that’s, I think one of the most interesting things about it, but the blending of fiction, reality is really fascinating. So I thought we might talk about that. So you are a filmmaker. Marty, What’s your impression of kind of how this was produced?

Marty Lang 8:46

you know,

Unknown Speaker 8:47
the the idea of combining real life people and fictional stories is something that’s just so fascinating to me. And you know, we see it in Nomad land in a dramatic context. But that’s not the only way that you can do it. I mean, you look at the new Borat movie, and you can see that sort of style in a comedic context, where the folks don’t know that they’re in a movie. But I think I think that it was so it was so valuable for for closure to work in that style for this movie, because there’s an authenticity to the performances that you’re seeing in this film, that I don’t think you’d be able to get if you were working with casting actors and all of those roles. You know, there’s just the the people that that she ended up casting, they were there, they have their lives, you know, they were their lives on their face, and you can see the struggle and you can see the stress and, you know, when they’re telling their stories, there’s an authenticity to that, that I don’t think an actor would be able to replicate quite frankly. So it was really something that I that I thought added a lot to the film. Also, you know, sort of the the naturalistic lighting style, the documentary style editing, you know, there’s just so much of this made it feel like it was real, and I just thought it was so weird. Hold on.

Andrew Sweatman 10:01
Yeah, 100% and I, there’s a scene where they’re kind of sitting around a campfire, and she’s just meeting a lot of these people, and they’re all telling their stories. And as I was watching has had the impression like, Oh, this is really these people’s stories like, how powerful is that to include that in this film? And yeah, I hadn’t thought of that before that comparison. But absolutely, like haggis documentary and fiction have have always, you know, that’s been a possibility. I did think about like Agnes Varda, I just got the, the Varna box set from criterion. So I’m so excited. But I’ve been thinking about her. And that’s something she did throughout her career, too. So there is a sort of a tradition of that. And I think this is just a really excellent use of that kind of thing. Actually, you mentioned the naturalistic lighting, sort of, we’re recording this right before Halloween, it’s gonna be out later, but I was thinking about just naturalistic lighting in general, I watched Robert Eggers, the witch lessons last week, and just researching about that, and he shot that all in natural light only on overcast days. And so I just think about that, that lens, such an authenticity to to film, and I think that it’s clear that she really does that here as well, but

Unknown Speaker 11:07
Oh, absolutely. Just the lack of pretense. You know, that’s really the whole feeling of this. Yeah. Completely.

Andrew Sweatman 11:13
And I think that’s, that’s inherent to that. Francis McDormand, I think is fantastic. Ms. And she she and David Strathairn are really the only familiar faces. But I think even that they they do a lot to blend in. So we we were able to watch a q&a after the film, when the show at filmland. Alex least I don’t know if you were able to stay for that. But it was really interesting. But yeah, yeah, she talked about how the costume designers went into their actual closets and got real clothes that belong to them so that it felt like they were just being themselves. In the film. I thought that was an interesting touch as well. What did you like the performances generally from from those two?

Unknown Speaker 11:51
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, David Strathairn. He’s, I mean, he’s just legendary. He’s been in so many films, and Francis McDormand is a national treasure. I mean, you look at her performance in this versus what she did in three billboards outside, I mean, this, oh, yeah. It’s 180 degrees, it’s a completely different character, and the empathy that she’s able to, you know, to get across in this role, and, you know, just her listening to these people tell their stories of how they became nomads and how they got on the road. You know, she, like Chloe said in the in the q&a, like she’s really able to bear witness. And there’s a power to that, when you see her just taking those stories in, you know, it really is the opposite of you know, some of the flashier roles that she’s had. I thought she really did a great job of it. The only thing that I thought was kind of interesting, too. You know, David Stern’s in this, and he’s got this sort of relationship problem with his son, his son in the film his his real life song.

Andrew Sweatman 12:45
I did not know that. Well,

Unknown Speaker 12:46
yeah, same state. So there’s there really, you know, there that authenticity continues, even with the cast of actors that are in film. So the, you know, these relationships that you see there, though, they’re fictional, they’re based on things that are very real. And I think it really came through a lot.

Andrew Sweatman 13:03
Yeah, and that it’s a perfect transition. Because next I was gonna just talk about how just emotional this movie is. And I think those real relationships play into that I found it really potent emotionally. And I think that has a lot to do with the tone and, and that naturalistic style. It’s probably one of the strongest depictions I’ve seen of like isolation and loneliness on screen. And so I wanted to see like, what did you think? Did this film register emotionally for you? And that way?

Unknown Speaker 13:29
It was crushing. I mean, you. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film that presents the United States as this just massive land. Just envelops you. Yeah. And I thought, yeah, the cinematography really plays a lot into that. Yeah. I mean, I hate saying this, you know, but given the state of our country now, you know, this may not be the only story we see about this world. You know, there’s a lot of people that are that are falling, you know, through the cracks that are that are taking the lives like this, you know, I thought a lot about when I was watching this movie, there’s an area in Southern California called Slab City. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that. And it’s a it’s an abandoned Air Force Base, where literally people just live their throughout the year where they don’t have to pay rent, or utilities or anything. And it’s literally just living on a slab of rock and trying to survive. And that I got that sense of that place watching this film. You know, the the real sort of rugged individualism that America is known for. And you’re having to rely on that. Because that’s all you know, that’s all you have. Yeah, it really Yeah, it really affected me. I really feel really, really got to me that way. Yeah. Yeah, I

Andrew Sweatman 14:42
think so. I think it’s, it has that sort of indictment of I mean, maybe even just capitalist systems and the fact that like, you know, this is the richest country in the world and and yet, people are having to live this way. And I think so it’s kind of implicit in the setup that you know, her in her hometown is Is she Shut down because of the economy collapsing there. But then to when it when she gets into, like learning about nomadism there’s this basically this influencer online who talks about it, and we see a couple of his like, clips of his videos. And then she goes to his conference where they all meet out in the desert, all these nomads. And it’s so interesting, because he’s he’s echoing a lot of that and saying, you know, we spend our lives, you know, under the tyranny of the dollar and working 40 hours and to buy these homes that, that we’re gonna resell. And so was he’s just kind of saying, here’s a way out. And I thought that was really, actually very compelling. And really interesting. Did you find kind of the Nomad lifestyle like well presented here?

Unknown Speaker 15:42
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And, and when, you know, when Francis his character gets to that session, you know, that talk, you know, all those people that are there, you know, those are, those are real people, and they’re a part of that life. And the only thing that did a great job that film did a great job of was showing the emotional underpinnings of what gets people into this lifestyle. And the first book that talked that she had with him, when he talks about how his son had passed away, and how, you know, I’m going to see him down the road. I mean, that I was I was in tears, like, it was. There’s, there’s a sadness to this, you know, what, how some people are forced into this lifestyle. But there’s also a real sense of love with this, because someone like, you know, that, that may I forget his name, who would actually, you know, create, you know, that influencer, he was brought into that lifestyle, in part because of massive trauma and massive tragedy. And, you know, he’s found all this love as a result of it, you know, from all these other people that he meets, and then he creates community with, you know, there’s a lot we can learn from that. And there’s a lot we can learn about support, you know, even in those extreme circumstances. So yeah, I thought I thought it did a wonderful job presenting that lifestyle.

Andrew Sweatman 16:55
Yeah, that’s a really good point. And so kind of related to that, like, I became unclear, like, I was like, I wonder if he’s an actor, if that’s really a person in the situation. And I don’t know about him, like, it would kind of seem to follow that that’s really his lifestyle. Maybe that’s really his story. But I think the part of the power of that blending is that you don’t know always and it ultimately doesn’t matter. Because you learn. I think it kind of a point in favor of kind of just narrative fiction as kind of can can get at the truth, when it maybe it’s not completely factual. I don’t know that this movie kind of draws that comparison for me in a way that I think is really powerful. But

Unknown Speaker 17:36
no, I agree. And the other thing I was thinking about too, when I was watching this film is how seamless it is. I’ve never seen a film that includes these characters so seamlessly so that it doesn’t pull you out of the narrative. Yeah. No, like I’m thinking, you know, not to spoil more to what there are certain film, when you see them, you’re completely pulled out of the narrative, because you know, they’re not at all a joke. For this film, everything was just so smooth, and you didn’t know who was who and, and it just created a really, really good flow. I thought a lot about the first film that Barry Jenkins directed medicine for melancholy. That was the film before moonlight. And he had a scene in that movie when two fictional characters walk in upon a real life San Francisco zoning meeting. And you can see people talking about the the incoming, you know, influx of white people into San Francisco, and how much of a struggle it was for the people in the town at the time. But that really felt like it stood out. This is the opposite of that, you know, this thing is just everything is just so integrated. And it was so seamless. It was really, really impressive.

Andrew Sweatman 18:48
Yeah, it makes it look easy. Like, you might watch the movie and not think anything about that. All of that which I think speaks to the just how capable of a director Kojo is. Yeah, yeah, kind of kind of going back to the kind of isolation on loneliness stuff. I, I found that so powerful, I think because we see like, there’s a lot of screentime of her just kind of working a job. She works at Amazon for a little bit. And she, she’s like washing dishes at restaurants and just living her life by herself. And then there’s also a contrast whenever she ends up working alongside David Strathairn at some of these jobs. And there’s a there’s a sequence where they’re working at the same place for a time and you see their kind of relationship and their friendship growing. And then he has to leave for a while. And then she’s back alone again. And I don’t know I just felt that his absence so much and felt her loneliness and that and then that kind of ramps up to there’s she spent Thanksgiving with his family. And I found that so emotional, I think partially because we’ve seen all her loneliness and now suddenly, like we really feel the draw of what it’s like to live with a family that she’s been without for so long. And her family relationships are so kind of fraught, that it’s she has this sort of beautiful way out if you want to take it and so that I thought that was really powerful, but also just actually during quarantine watching this. Seeing a group of people I’ll be loving group of people having this warm meal together was particularly poignant, I think because we’re lacking a lot of that right now.

Marty Lang 20:24
But yeah,

Unknown Speaker 20:25
I agree that was a big part of the experience seeing it in a drive in and being forced to sit away from people and and you’re seeing that communal experience. And look at how hard was it for firm to deal with that when she was in the middle of it? You know, it was too much. Yeah, it really was. Just so good.

Andrew Sweatman 20:46
Yeah, I think some other filmmaking touches. So yeah, well, like you’re saying it blends those two things. So well. But there are some moments that just not that they feel scripted. But like, clearly, this was really, really intentional, like when she is deciding whether or not to stay. And there’s a scene where she’s just sitting at the table alone. And like before everyone’s awake. And it’s nothing. It’s completely unspoken, she kind of looks around and you just see it in her performance. Like, she’s just kind of saying goodbye to it in a way. And then she gets up, the camera stays on the empty chair at the table. And she gets up and walks out of the frame. And so there’s really a moving moment, and just a really nice filmmaking touch as well.

Marty Lang 21:21
Yeah, totally.

Andrew Sweatman 21:22
Yeah. And then one other thing I wanted to mention was the music and this, I really think it’s effective too. And I was looking up, you know, Nomad lands score, and learned that it actually was not composed for this movie. It’s just some classical music that the director found. He actually like the composer. I can’t remember the name I can, I can pull it up. But basically, he put a bit going audio think there you go. So he, the story that I read was that he walked the same path over and over and was like out in nature and then composes music around that. So that very much fits, I think, with sort of the feelings of this film, too. So I thought that was a perfect, perfect thing. And the music is so great in this to them.

Unknown Speaker 22:05
It’s really, it’s a film, you know, it communicates with feeling. And it it, it’s just so simple, and it doesn’t shoot over the head with anything. And it just presents this way of life is just so effective at it.

Andrew Sweatman 22:20
Yeah, simple doesn’t get you over the head. I think that’s a really good way to put it. And at the same time, just I found just overwhelmingly emotional. And so I think that’s, that’s part of the power of it, too. It’s like it’s pretty even minimal in a way. And yet it gets at those those deep emotions. So yeah, well, that is no mad land. I definitely recommend it. It sounds like you do as well, Marty.

Marty Lang 22:41
Absolutely. Yes.

Andrew Sweatman 22:43
So that is no one that keep an eye out for it. And that will that will do it for this discussion. Thank you so much, Marty for being here.

Marty Lang 22:49
Glad to be here. And you had a really great time. Me too.

Andrew Sweatman 22:53
And that will do it for this episode of Art House garage. Make sure to catch Nomad land when you can. And stay tuned next week for a discussion of Sofia Coppola’s new one on the rocks, which stars Bill Murray and Rashida Jones, friend of the show and filmmaker James Basham joins me for that one, so don’t miss it. Thank you so much for listening to art house garage, we’ve got a few years worth of episodes. You can hear all of those in your podcast app of choice. If you want to support our house garage, you can leave a rating or review in your podcast app. Or you can buy an art house garage t shirt at our house garage comm slash shop. stay in the loop about our house garage and the films we’re covering by subscribing to our email newsletter by going to art house garage comm slash subscribe or you can email me directly Andrew at art house garage COMM And of course follow on social media. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and letterbox just search at arthaus garage and all those places or find links in the show notes. And that will do it for this episode. Thank you again so much for listening. And until next time, keep it snop free

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Picture of Andrew Sweatman

Andrew Sweatman

Andrew is a writer, podcaster, and film lover who wants to help people think critically about movies. He lives in central Arkansas with his wife Allison and two children, Rosie & Beau. Andrew is the Senior Editor at Arthouse Garage and a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA). Find him at and on Twitter and Instagram: @ArthouseGarage.

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