Chloé Zhao was raised in Beijing and England, and is currently a MFA thesis student at New York University’s graduate film program. She was selected as a fellow at the 2012 Sundance Directors and Screenwriters Lab as well as the 2011 Film Independent Screenwriters Lab with her first feature Songs My Brothers Taught Me. (Adrienne Shelly Foundation)
Songs My Brothers Taught Me will premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival January 27.
W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing
CZ: A complex portrait of modern-day life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation explores the bond between a brother and his younger sister who find themselves on separate paths to rediscovering the meaning of home.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
CZ: I wanted to understand what Pine Ridge means to its residents and the complex relationship they have with their homes.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
CZ: The biggest creative challenge was in the editing room. I didn’t have a script — only an outline. 100 hours of footage. There was a lot of rewriting and rediscovering in the editing room.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theatre?
CZ: I want people to feel that they’ve gotten to know the people in the film a little bit, gotten to see Pine Ridge in ways they haven’t seen before. I think that’s a good start.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
CZ: It’s important to make time for yourself.
W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?
CZ: This is my first feature, so I guess I will find out soon.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
CZ: We got our money from everywhere we could — grants, crowdsource and private equity. We made the film fairly cheaply. At the end of the day, it was the overwhelming amount of community support that made it possible.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
CZ: Meek’s Cutoff by Kelly Reichardt. It’s beautifully shot. It’s a complex story. The filmmaker gave a very patient and feminine touch to a story that takes place during a period of history that’s very masculine, without losing any of the unforgiving harshness of the reality where the characters found themselves in.