Jane Campion, the humble giant of New Zealand cinema
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New Zealand’s Jane Campion highlighted her status as a leading filmmaker of her generation, winning the Best Director’s Award at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday.
“The Power of the Dog,” an emotionally complex story about conflicted brothers on a 1920s Montana ranch, was Campion’s first film in more than a decade and immediately received critical acclaim.
Campion was already a major figure in the history of cinema as the first woman to win a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, for “The Piano”, and only the second nominee for an Oscar for directing.
Benedict Cumberbatch, who stars in her new film, told reporters that she is a “key icon” in the women’s movement.
“She’s a great filmmaker and a very powerful woman in our industry. She handles everything so skillfully and she’s so ridiculously humble about it,” he said in Venice.
Campion returned the compliment by accepting the award on Saturday, saying of Cumberbatch: “He really went around the world and came back to find this character, to get naked.”
Campion was a little-known arthouse filmmaker when she presented “The Piano” at the Cannes Film Festival in 1993.
The New Zealand film about a silent pianist and her daughter starring Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill and Anna Paquin, won three Oscars and was a huge critical and commercial success.
“’The Piano’ was a huge movie for me growing up – seminal – all of his work is,” Cumberbatch said.
She followed that film with a series of intricate films featuring strong-willed women who established her as one of the leading writers of her generation.
– Early exposure –
Born in Wellington on April 30, 1954, the second of three children, Campion grew up in a theater family.
But despite this early exposure – his mother was a writer and actress, his father a director and producer – Campion had no intention of becoming a filmmaker.
Instead, she studied for a degree in anthropology in New Zealand before focusing on art in London and Sydney.
It was only later that Campion found his calling at the Australian Film Television and Radio School between 1981 and 1984.
Many of Campion’s films revolve around gender issues, and she has been praised for the innovation, imagination and intelligence of her work.
“The Portrait of a Lady” (1996) was an adaptation of the Henry James novel, starring Nicole Kidman, while “Holy Smoke” (1999) featured Kate Winslet as a woman experiencing a spiritual awakening on a trip to India.
Campion also chose Meg Ryan in “In The Cut” (2003) as a New York writing teacher who has an affair with a detective investigating a local murder.
– ‘Mythical and exciting’ –
She first came to Cannes in 1986 when she won the award for best short film with “Peel”.
In 1989, her first feature film “Sweetie” – the story of a young woman’s difficult relationship with her unstable sister – was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or and she returned with “Un ange à ma table “(1990), based on the autobiographies of New Zealand author Janet Frame.
In addition to feature films, Campion branched out into documentaries such as “Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story” (2006) about a Japanese student kidnapped by a North Korean agent in 1977.
Her “Top of the Lake” mini-series, with Elizabeth Moss as a detective returning to her hometown to investigate a child abuse case, was a hit with audiences and won a series of awards.
In 2014, she was president of the jury at Cannes, and described the festival as a “mythical and exciting” place where “incredible things can happen”.
“I know because that’s what happened to me,” she added.
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© 2021 AFP