Chloe Zhao, who produced, directed and wrote the Western drama “The Rider,” has won Film Independent’s inaugural Bonnie Award, given to recognize a mid-career female director.
The trophy, which includes a $50,000 grant, was presented to Zhao at the organization’s Spirit Awards brunch at Boa Steakhouse in West Hollywood. Her film, which debuted at the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival, is up for four Spirits for best feature, director, editing and cinematography.
The 33rd annual Spirit Awards will be held on March 3 in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica, Calif. Only films with budgets of $20 million or less are eligible.
Zhao, who is Chinese-American, told Variety that she used a tiny crew of about half a dozen friends and family to shoot “The Rider,” which charts the frustrated dreams of a South Dakota rodeo rider, played by real-life cowboy Brady Jandreau. “The Rider” also marked a return to Directors’ Fortnight for Zhao who presented her feature debut “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” in 2015.
“We had so little resources that I didn’t have to think too much about this project,” she said. “The last one took a long time so I just wanted to do this one quickly. When you have limitations like we did, you’re forced to learn how to do things.”
John Cho and Alia Shawkat co-hosted the event and handed out the honors. The Bonnie Award is named after Bonnie Tiburzi Caputo who joined American Airlines in 1973 at age 24, becoming the first female pilot to fly for a major U.S. airline. Caputo attended Saturday’s event.
The other finalists for the Bonnie award were So Yong Kim and Lynn Shelton.
Jonathan Olshefski, director of “Quest, “received the Truer Than Fiction Award, which includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant. Finalists for the award were Shevaun Mizrahi, director of “Distant Constellation,” and Jeff Unay, director of “The Cage Fighter.”
Justin Chon, director of “Gook,” received the Someone to Watch Award, which includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant. Finalists for the award were Amman Abbasi, director of “Dayveon,” and Kevin Phillips, director of “Super Dark Times.”
Summer Shelton received the Piaget Producers Award, which includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant. Finalists for the award were the team of Giulia Caruso & Ki Jin Kim and Ben Leclair.
Matty Brown received the Seattle Story Award, which includes a $25,000 cash grant, to create a short film inspired by Seattle’s independent spirit.