Varying Approaches

Jane Campion comments on her career with her usual modesty.

Jane Campion

In the Berlinale Talent Campus session dedicated to her career, Jane Campion shared the stage with screenwriter Gerard Lee, the co-writer of her debut feature, SWEETIE (1989), and of her most recent project, TOP OF THE LAKE (2013). Lee’s contributions to the discussion were informative and invigorating, but the limelight still belonged to Campion. Her comments ranged from a candid narration of her early days in filmmaking to accounts of her collaboration with Michael Nyman to a highly empathetic description of her female characters.

Moderated by critic Peter Cowie, the session included an assortment of clips from SWEETIE, AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE (1990), THE PIANO (1993), PORTRAIT OF A LADY (1996) and TOP OF THE LAKE. The visibly varied directorial approach of each film should offer enough proof of Campion’s eclecticism: for instance, there’s a huge difference between the cartoonish bright colours in a scene depicting writer Janet Frame’s childhood in ANGEL and the sombre atmosphere of a tense marital scene between Isabel and Gilbert Osmond in PORTRAIT. The retrospective came short in creating a sense of unity in Campion’s body of work, but that is admittedly hard to accomplish in her case.

A festival darling since the release of her first short films, with SWEETIE being screened at Cannes, the New Zealand-born director has had more fortunate opportunities than her humble self-image would suggest. In front of an audience consisting mostly of young Campus filmmakers, Campion was reluctant to go into detail when discussing her creative techniques and the unpleasant bureaucratic formalities that aspiring filmmakers have to adjust to.

Campion’s optimism makes her a refreshing departure from the cliché of the woman filmmaker who extols her biological vulnerability and declares herself underprivileged in relation to her male colleagues. Her directness makes it all the more frustrating that she doesn’t get into the nuts and bolts of creative labour when she’s addressing a group of young filmmakers.