The Rider is the documentary-style film from Chinese-American director Chloé Zhao starring real-life rodeo rider Brady Jandreau, alongside his sister Lily, father Tim and fellow rider Lane Scott, as a young man grappling with his identity and his future as a head injury thwarts his career as a bronco rider. Zhao’s interpretation of Brady’s true story provides a fresh perspective on the stereotypical Western, quietly exploring the reality lying behind the illusion of rock-solid masculinity held in the image of a cowboy.

The second of Zhao’s feature films, after 2015’s Songs My Brothers Taught MeThe Rider picked up The Art Cinema Award at this year’s Cannes Director’s Fortnight and was selected to join a showcase of films at the inaugural Pingyao Film Festival in China from the 2017 film festival season where it clinched one of the festival’s top prizes: the Roberto Rossellini jury award for Best Director. Presenting the award the judges highlighted Zhao’s ability to “thoroughly observe the small details of life”, noting that “although she is not an American, she is not a part of the culture, but she really gave us a very detailed authentic picture of their lives”. And Zhao, who is a Chinese citizen though based in the US, spoke passionately of what it meant for her to film to not only to be part of the first year of Jia Zhang-ke’s project to nurture independent filmmaking in China but also to be recognised with an award.

We had the chance to speak to Zhao during the film festival at the picturesque Yide Hotel about what inspired her to make The Rider, the significance of a new boutique festival bringing together non-Western and Western film in provincial China and how she sees diversity in filmmaking. She told us about the challenges and rewards of working with non-professional actors, particularly eliciting an incredibly moving performance from breakout star Brady Jandreau, balancing reality and script in the telling of a true story, and her plans for her next film set in China.

By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 14th September 2018.
Video: Ye Qiusen

The Rider is released in select cinemas on 14th September 2018. Read our review here.

Watch the trailer for The Rider here: