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Frances McDormand in the film NOMADLAND.
Frances McDormand in the film NOMADLAND. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Festival-goers of the 56th Chicago International Film Festival voted Nomadland the third feature film from director Chloé Zhao, the winner of the Audience Choice Award for Feature Film. The film stars Frances McDormand as Fern who, after the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. Nomadland features real nomads Linda May, Swankie, and Bob Wells as Fern’s mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West.

Miwa Nishikawa won the Best International Feature Audience Choice Award with Under the Open Sky (Subarashiki Sekai), her compassionate yet pointed tale chronicling an ex-con’s rough re-entry into civil society. In and out of institutions – from orphanages to juvenile homes and penitentiaries – since childhood, former Yakuza Mikami is released from his most recent 13-year stint in prison. But what comes next? Bolstered by friends and allies in unexpected places, Mikami must adapt to life on the outside as he struggles to secure both employment and a new sense of self.

The Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary Film went to the award-winning team of Greg Jacobs & Jon Siskel for The Road Up, their inspiring and emotional follow up to past Festival hit Louder Than a Bomb. The film follows Jesse Teverbaugh, a charismatic leader at the job-training program Cara. With tough-love and dedication, Teverbaugh mentors four Chicagoans during their precarious journey from homelessness, addiction, and incarceration to stable employment. The Road Up powerfully chronicles not only America’s unforgiving economic and social structures, but also the essential role that community, connection, hope, and love play in overcoming adversity.

Finally, the Audience Choice Award for Best Short Film went to “To: Gerard” by director Taylor Meacham. This heartfelt story is about the art of illusion and the magic of inspiring someone to follow their dreams.

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