Interview: Award-winning "Nomadland" Producer Mollye Asher

Mollye Asher had quite the year in 2020. It could have gone any number of ways, especially when Carlo Mirabella-Davis' Swallow was released right on the cusp of lockdown just as cinemas were forced to close their doors. It didn't.

Instead, Mollye bounced from one high to another, winning the Producers Award at the Film Independent Spirit Awards and then watching as Nomadland blew through festivals gathering awards as it went. Though not the first time Mollye has worked with Chloé  Zhao, Nomadland has perhaps been the most lauded, winning the People's Choice Award at Toronto and the Golden Lion at Venice.

We caught up with our 2017 alum in a discussion under the umbrellla of our new theme, Dreams, to reflect on the past year, realising her visions and bringing her dreams into reality. 

Mollye Asher © Joey Kuhn
Mollye Asher © Joey Kuhn

What did you dream about last night?

I have a recurring dream that I have just found an entirely new section in my tiny NYC apartment that I didn't know was there. A door that leads to a whole new, spacious area with multiple rooms and space and light. I love those dreams! Especially during lockdown....

This year has for many been something of a nightmare, how did you manage to turn it around into to the dream it has been for you?

At the start of the lockdown, I actually felt a strange sense of calm. The industry can be so fast moving and competitive. It was a relief to feel like it was OK to just hit pause and read and develop projects.

I also had two films in post production - Nomadland and Catch the Fair One. We were rushing to finish Catch but the pandemic and the cancellation of some festivals actually gave us time to dive deeper into the edit. Had we not had that extra time, I don't think we would have gotten the film to where it is now.

I saw Chloé's first cut of Nomadland right around the beginning of the lockdown. I honestly bawled for a good hour or so afterwards. The film, in many ways, is about connecting with people and the passage of life. It made me desperately want to be with my parents, who are of similar ages to the people in the film. Pandemic or not - I think the movie would have touched people but the subject matter just hits you that much closer to home and heart now. While it won't have the typical theatrical life we imagined, now is the time for this movie and I look forward to it reaching audiences when they need it most.

I also had my film, Swallow, come out in theatres on March 6th. On March 13th, when it was supposed to open wider, theatres closed and we were all told to stay home. Fortunately, IFC released it day and date so, strangely, we benefited from the lockdown because people were scrambling to find movies to watch! A vibrant fan base started to grow on social media and - while we were all locked up inside - I suddenly felt close to all of these complete strangers.

Part of this nightmare has been to look for the silver linings. This time has made me truly grateful for the work that we, as filmmakers do. It's in these troubled times that our work becomes all the more urgent. Whether we are making things for people to just escape with or movies to call us to action or movies to bring us together, I'm truly thankful that I get to be in this industry.

What is the next dream, or vision, your daydream for the future?

I really just want to keep making work. Finding filmmakers who inspire me like the folks I met at Berlinale Talents. Finding projects that are bold and singular. Projects that engage audiences emotionally and bring about conversation and contemplation. My dream for the future is to continue to make smaller, riskier indie movies but also to balance it out with bigger studio films. I hope the success of Nomadland will lead me toward that future. With luck, I can then turn that reoccurring dream of a bigger apartment into reality!

Mollye Asher is Spirit and Gotham Award winning producer and winner of the 2020 Producers Award from the Film Independent Spirit Awards. Most recently, she produced “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) which premiered at Venice (Golden Lion), TIFF (People’s Choice), Telluride, and NYFF. The film stars Frances McDormand and is Mollye’s third collaboration with writer/ director, Chloé Zhao.

Other credits include Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ "Swallow" (IFC Films), which won ‘Best Actress’ at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, Chloé Zhao’s, “The Rider,” which won Best Feature in Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, SXSW Grand Jury Prize winner, "Fort Tilden,” Spirit Award nominated film, "She’s Lost Control" (Berlinale) as well as Zhao’s debut feature "Songs My Brothers Taught Me" (Sundance, Cannes, Kino Lorber).

She recently co-founded the production company, The Population, with Mynette Louie and Derek Nguyen and is currently in post-production on Josef Kubota Wladyka’s thriller, "Catch the Fair One." It is executive produced by Darren Aronofsky’s Protozoa Films. Mollye earned her MFA in Film from NYU and is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures.