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In the judge’s seat

LiveMint logoLiveMint 09-06-2014 Anu Rangachar

This year the Cannes Film festival chose New Zealand-born, Australia-based film-maker and Oscar winner Jane Campion as president of its main competition jury. Campion did not disappoint. She set the tone on the first day of the festival by being vocal about the lack of films made by women in the competition leading to speculations from the media that this year would see many female winners. She said later that the jury did not resort to gender politics and instead they were moved only by the stories.

Campion came to the limelight with her first film Sweetie about a quirky story of a dysfunctional family . She later made The Piano which not only made her win her first PalmeD’or, she was the first woman to win it in Cannes film festival’s history and subsequently won an Oscar for the best screenplay. The Piano got Holly Hunter her first Best Actress Oscar as well. Since then Campion has made many films exploring female sexuality and often has been cited as a feminist director.

As a frequent visitor to India, her love for India is well known. Her film Holy Smoke with Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel explored the cult politics and prejudices of the West and its perception towards eastern philosophies, layering it with a complex story of a young woman discovering her sexuality and its power.

Campion’s entry to television was heralded by her latest and critically acclaimed mini series Top of the Lake, a psychological thriller in which Holly Hunter played again as an illusive Guru taking care of troubled women, setting up a retreat in the middle of a massive green expanse called “Paradise” and Elisabeth Moss as the tormented detective, trying to unravel the mystery around a missing teenager in a seemingly sleepy village with a hideous past.

In this interview at the festival, she talks about winning the top award for The Piano and being a feminist film-maker. Edited excerpts:

‘The Piano’ won the Palme d’Or in 1993. What has your journey been like since then and how does it feel to return as president of the jury?

I’ve had a really long relationship with this festival. More than 28 years ago, my first films got screened here. The festival likes to believe it creates some kind of support for film-makers. It has been very enabling in my career. My film Sweetie was included in the competition and even though it did not win, it was a big deal to be included. When I won the Palme d’Or, I did not realize how special or how big it was. When I look back, I feel I must have done something right.

Being president of the main jury was a bit scary because anyone who has been to this festival realizes what a big stage it is in the world and there are a lot of people there, it’s televised. But suddenly calm came over me like a cloak.

You were the first woman director to win a Palme d’Or. Looking back, has anything changed? Is there a scarcity of good films made by women?

I don’t think there is any scarcity of good films being made by women—Kathryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppola, and many others. There are war movies made by women, better than the guys. Thierry Frémaux (artistic director of the Cannes Film Festival) told me 1,800 films were submitted this year and only 7% were made by women directors. Either they are choosing not to do it or they are not supported or they are just in other professions.

I think it’s important more women make films because storytelling creates history, and a sense of who we are, and with only men telling stories, obviously it’s going to be skewed towards the male point of view.

When you made your first film ‘Sweetie’, many observed it as a renaissance of Australian cinema. What is the state of Australian cinema now?

I am not the person to know the whole story but there seems to be a movement, especially in Melbourne, where a group of very talented and creative people are together in it like Garth Davis, who co-directed Top Of the Lake. It’s a group of people going to film school together, watching movies together, who start influencing and inspiring each other way more than the teachers influencing them, and becoming an important force. The film schools in Australia are very expensive and so are class-based—and that’s tragic, because when I went to film school, the school paid for us and the school selected you from several applicants, and now it’s only for students who can afford it.

The protagonists in most of your films are strong female characters aware of their sexuality—you have sometimes been called a feminist director. Does that label bother you?

As women, we understand women better, and if we don’t portray them for who they are, who will?

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