Nomad land is a stark and hauntingly poetic portrayal of poverty in America. It is perhaps the most relevant film of our desperate economic times. Based on the book by journalist Jessica Bruder, Nomad land follows a lonely widower after the 2011 United States Gypsum Company collapse in Empire, Nevada. The city was abandoned and lost its zip code. The people left behind have adapted to survive. Some chose to live in vans or recreational vehicles to save money. Driving around the country to find work wherever they could. Their hard existence formed a community of road travelers. I seek solace in one another when their country failed.
Nomad land opens in a huge Amazon shipping facility. Fern, superbly played by two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand, comes to her shift. It is part of Amazon’s CamperForce program, in which seasonal workers travel to different camps all year round. Fern lives in an old van. She is new to the street lifestyle. Fern receives guidance and needs friendship from Linda (Linda May), a friendly street veteran. She teaches Fern simple tricks to make her living space more comfortable.
When her Amazon job ends, Fern is still broke and can’t find a job locally. She is forced to take to the streets again; She slept in freezing parking lots, used a bucket for her bathroom, and made her simple meals on a single burner. Fern decides to follow Linda to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in Arizona. There she meets group leader Bob Wells, who gives wise advice on how to be happy in her loneliness.
Fern’s journey is both inspiring and heartbreaking. She worked hard for the American dream all her life. When the Empire fell victim to the Great Recession; she had nothing to show. Fern refuses to live with relatives or concerned friends. Her van became her savior. She finds a sense of freedom and purpose in much of the American West. Fern uses her grief to inspire determination. She works tooth and nail for a penny. But is a burden for no one and safe in their freedom.
Writer / director Chloé Zhao (Songs my brothers taught me, The driver) is transcendent in her third feature film. She actually presents Fern’s circumstances. There is nothing sensational about their work in factories, on potato farms, or cleaning toilets. Fern is in her sixties, has no children or any other means of getting money. She has to take every job she can get. That said, their life on the street is soulful and rewarding. Fern’s lack of comfort for the creature does not define it. Chloé Zhao films breathtakingly beautiful scenes from far away alone in the wild. She has lost everything, but her connection with nature is constantly rejuvenating her mind.
Nomad land addresses a harsh truth with unvarnished sensitivity. Millions of Americans face Fern’s financial condition. Your jobs are gone. They lost their homes. Social security and meager pensions are not enough. Living in a van may be a lifestyle choice for some, but the only choice for others. Fern is a fictional character, but Linda May and Bob Wells are well-known advocates of RV and van life. Their message: you can be a slave to the almighty dollar or choose another path to fulfillment.
Nomad land is a 21st century parable that is redefining the American dream. It won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. Nomad land will be a strong contender for awards across the board. Frances McDormand and Chloé Zhao created a piece of Americana that every adult in this country must see. Nomad land is produced by Cor Cordium Productions, Hear / Say Productions and Highwayman Films. A weeklong virtual screening will take place on December 4th at the Lincoln Center Virtual Cinema. Followed by a theatrical release on February 19, 2021 by Searchlight Pictures.
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