Jane Cam­pion:

moth­er­hood and 25 years of film-mak­ing

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - NEWS -

When cel­e­brated Kiwi film-maker Jane Cam­pion walked the red car­pet at Cannes in May this year, she stole the show – but not for the right rea­son.

Pos­ing for a photo with the who’s who of great film-mak­ers to cel­e­brate the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val’s 70th year, she looked much like the others – wear­ing all black, with a sil­ver head of hair, it wasn’t her ap­pear­ance that made Jane so ob­vi­ous, but her gen­der. In seven decades of the pres­ti­gious fes­ti­val she is the only fe­male film­maker to have won the top prize, the Palme d’Or, which she was awarded in 1993 for The Piano.

“I used to feel quite proud that

I was the only woman – but now

I feel sick about it,” Jane ad­mits to The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly, speak­ing from a ho­tel room in Lon­don, where she is about to at­tend the UK pre­miere of the se­cond sea­son of her gritty thriller, Top of the Lake. For­tu­nately, the 63-year-old be­lieves things are slowly chang­ing.

“There are so many ex­cit­ing things hap­pen­ing for women, es­pe­cially in tele­vi­sion. Ni­cole Kid­man and Reese Wither­spoon’s Big Lit­tle Lies is beau­ti­fully done, amaz­ingly acted and re­ally watch­able, and Jill Soloway and An­drea Arnold’s [TV and film] work is cut­ting edge. There are some ex­cit­ing women do­ing stuff that is en­gag­ing people at the high­est level and I think it is go­ing to trickle through.”

Ni­cole Kid­man, who Jane has known since the Aussie-born red­head was 14 years old, is front and cen­tre in Top of the Lake: China Girl.

“Ni­cole was re­ally keen to get into tele­vi­sion and that was one of the rea­sons she is in our project. She came to us when we were writ­ing and said, ‘Do you have a part for me?’ She also sensed that free­dom in tele­vi­sion and

She is so good at lead­ing people into the cor­ners of their parts and get­ting them to feel com­fort­able.

was look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Ni­cole plays Mi­randa, the adop­tive mother of Mary, who is played by Jane’s own daugh­ter Alice En­glert.

“I was a bit wor­ried that ev­ery­one would go, ‘Oh my God, you cast your daugh­ter,’ but no­body did re­spond that way,” says Jane, who handed over some of Alice’s more chal­leng­ing scenes to co-di­rec­tor Ariel Kleiman.

“The first episode I di­rected wasn’t too bad be­cause she was just giv­ing her mum a bit of hell, but as the story goes on things get pretty dark for her and when I was think­ing about divvy­ing up who did each episode I went, right, all the dif­fi­cult ones go to Ariel. I knew I would have such a lot of emo­tional trou­ble do­ing re­takes on stuff that was hard for her.

“Hon­estly, I think I’d say, ‘Yes, dar­ling, that was good, you didn’t say the right words, but that is okay, let’s just move on,” she says, laugh­ing at her­self. “You just don’t want to go some places with your kid.”

Alice, now 22, has acted in sev­eral BBC tele­vi­sion se­ries and in fea­ture­length films in­clud­ing In Fear, The Re­hearsal and Ginger & Rosa. She also makes short films, one of which re­cently won an award at The St Kilda Film Fes­ti­val in Aus­tralia.

Jane says she has long wanted to cre­ate a “juicy” role for Alice and the op­por­tu­nity arose while plan­ning se­ries two of Top of the Lake when she re­alised the daugh­ter De­tec­tive Robin Grif­fin (Elis­a­beth Moss) gave up for adop­tion would be in Alice’s age range. “She has had to put up with me be­ing on sets since she was tiny and it was a nice bit of pos­i­tive pay­back for her. I don’t know who else could have done that role ac­tu­ally. It is re­ally com­pli­cated and you can re­late to Alice with her big Au­drey Hep­burn eyes – she doesn’t just seem like an un­grate­ful teenager; you can feel her vul­ner­a­bil­ity.”

The mother/daugh­ter re­la­tion­ship be­tween Alice and Ni­cole Kid­man’s char­ac­ters is a fraught one. Fa­mous for her poignant sto­ry­telling, Jane says it was im­por­tant for her and her long­stand­ing writ­ing part­ner, Gerard Lee, who co-wrote Top of the Lake, to por­tray the re­al­ity of par­ent­hood.

“Jane and I write from our dif­fi­cul­ties be­cause they are what in­spire us,” says Gerard. “My son has just been through that age and it’s the time when your kids tell you they are a le­gal separate iden­tity.”

Jane agrees: “I had the same thing from my daugh­ter when she didn’t want to go to school any more. I said, ‘Come on Al, what are you do­ing, you need to get dressed, I’ll drive you down,’ and she went, ‘I am not go­ing and you bet­ter get used to it.’ And I knew she was se­ri­ous.

“She was a school re­fuser at about 15. We tried a few dif­fer­ent rou­tines – we did home school­ing even­tu­ally, and she went to a school for kids who couldn’t han­dle nor­mal school or were too naughty or sen­si­tive.”

Alice didn’t want to go to univer­sity ei­ther, de­spite Jane in­sist­ing they had been the best years of her own life. “She is self-ed­u­cated in a way. She is re­ally well-read. Even the act­ing train­ing, she just did that at home with me,” says Jane, who put aside her con­cerns about Alice join­ing the fiercely com­pet­i­tive and im­age­fo­cused world of act­ing to sup­port her daugh­ter’s dream.

“I would love to start an act­ing train­ing school be­cause I can see how easy it would be to get them into a good act­ing space – teach them sim­ple stuff they don’t get taught.”

“Jane is fan­tas­tic at that,” says Gerard. “She is so good at lead­ing people into the cor­ners of their parts and get­ting them to feel com­fort­able.”

Jane and Gerard have col­lab­o­rated as far back as the crit­i­cally ac­claimed film Sweetie in 1989, and are well versed in cre­at­ing cut­ting edge drama to­gether. Asked what it is like work­ing with a co-writer so firmly fo­cused on women’s sto­ries, Gerard says they

There are so many ex­cit­ing things hap­pen­ing for women, es­pe­cially in tele­vi­sion.

have a hu­mor­ous re­la­tion­ship.

“It’s like a ro­bust brother and sis­ter fight­ing over the same teddy bear. Like, ‘No, it is mine,’ ‘No, it is mine,’ and ev­ery now and then she points to the gi­raffe and says, ‘You can have that one’ – that’s when I can have fun for an af­ter­noon be­cause mostly I am al­lowed to play with it on my own be­fore go­ing back to the teddy bear. I have quite a few thoughts my­self about how women ought to be, so it’s a bit of a tus­sle,” he says drolly.

“It is in­ter­est­ing how Gerard has in­ter­nalised ideas about women and I have about men as well,” Jane adds. “When we come to act­ing it out, I en­joy play­ing the re­ally bad guy – it’s re­ally ther­a­peu­tic!”

“It’s good to go to the other side for a bit,” Gerard agrees. “As recre­ation I have writ­ten this long story where there is only one woman in town and ev­ery­one else is a bloke try­ing to put each other in a head­lock – it’s kind of a re­ac­tion to it!”

Jokes aside, it’s clearly a win­ning pair­ing – Cannes came to them this year and re­quested to show Top of the Lake: China Girl in its en­tirety. It was so well re­ceived, they had to give it a new screen­ing time to ac­com­mo­date the num­ber of people who wanted to see it. It’s worth not­ing the only other tele­vi­sion se­ries shown at Cannes this year was David Lynch’s ea­gerlyawaited third sea­son of Twin Peaks.

While sea­son one of Top of the

Lake was set in the re­mote lake­side set­tle­ment of Glenorchy in Otago, where its eerie set­ting cap­tured au­di­ences around the world, the six­part se­ries two has moved across the Tas­man to Syd­ney.

“It was re­ally fun to do those first six hours in that par­tic­u­lar part of New Zealand and share that with the world, and I think in gen­eral the world just loved it,” says Jane. “But there is an­other kind of beauty and in­trigue about Syd­ney too – it’s a big city with an ocean fringe, which is a wilder­ness as well. It has a darker in­ner life and is also an Asian city, which many people don’t credit.”

Jane says de­spite her love for the Aus­tralian cap­i­tal, where she has lived part-time for 20 years, Glenorchy is home too. “I live there half the time – or in my imag­i­na­tion I do. I have two homes there, one is a guest house.”

“The other one is hid­den away – you couldn’t find it in a month of Sun­days,” says Gerard.

“I love it there,” Jane con­tin­ues.

“It makes me feel like no mat­ter what hap­pens I am happy in this neck of the woods. You can re­lax deeply there.

I have been go­ing there for 20 years. Alice loves it too; the other house I’ve built is for her.”

In Top of the Lake: China Girl, De­tec­tive Robin Grif­fin once again faces a sea of misog­yny within the po­lice force and is fight­ing to find the killer of an­other vul­ner­a­ble woman. But de­spite hav­ing the same lead char­ac­ter, the se­cond se­ries is a stand­alone of­fer­ing with brand new themes emerg­ing.

“We wanted to tell a new story,” says Gerard. “After se­ries one, we said we wouldn’t do an­other se­ries, we wouldn’t sell out and make a fran­chise of it. We’ve stuck to that – this is just a new story with the same de­tec­tive. We don’t want to give too much away but there is a strong theme of moth­er­hood and the dif­fer­ent ways that is played out.”

The se­ries, which will de­but here in Au­gust on UKTV, dives deep into Syd­ney’s un­der­belly and into the sex in­dus­try and raises ques­tions about the con­trol women have over their own bod­ies. “Mostly it is a very deeply ma­ter­nal theme and is about women and re­pro­duc­tive rights – a jour­ney that is so deep and im­por­tant for women,” says Jane. “In the world, that is not very ex­plored be­cause guys don’t think it is a very sexy sub­ject, a bit like women’s ver­sion of go­ing to war. Guys don’t like it be­cause it is when women don’t want to have sex with them any more.”

Jane, who found get­ting preg­nant dif­fi­cult, and whose son Jasper died at just 12 days old, shortly after

The Piano won at Cannes, says the theme is deeply fa­mil­iar to her. “I was some­one who had a lot of trou­ble get­ting preg­nant and it is such a tough, sad time – it is about love and loss.”

The bound­ary-push­ing di­rec­tor says tele­vi­sion is the per­fect medium for thought-pro­vok­ing sto­ry­telling. “The au­di­ence for tele­vi­sion is a lot more risk tak­ing, they are pretty smart and dis­cern­ing. I think you are more com­fort­able in your own home see­ing ma­te­rial that is wilder be­cause you can turn the sound down, you can stop half­way through.”

Elis­a­beth Moss, who is also the lead in the haunt­ing new tele­vi­sion se­ries The Hand­maid’s Tale (screen­ing on Light­box), re­quested that her part in China Girl be even more chal­leng­ing than in the first se­ries.

“She wanted to have chal­lenges that would keep her re­ally in­ter­ested,” says Jane. “She said: ‘I want you to make it re­ally dif­fi­cult for me,’ and I re­mem­ber Gerard and I saying, ‘Je­sus, what do we have to do to her? Should we get her kid­napped, get a limb taken off – what should we do?’

“I am so amazed by her. She has these won­der­ful deep notes. I just adore watch­ing her – I’ve seen it so many times and when I feel those deep rivers ris­ing in her, it makes me emo­tional.”

It’s clear that Jane will con­tinue to write chal­leng­ing roles for women and to tell their sto­ries and is keenly sup­port­ive of giv­ing other women a leg up. When Sofia Cop­pola won the award for best di­rec­tor at Cannes this year, she thanked Jane Cam­pion for “be­ing a role model and sup­port­ing women film-mak­ers”.

Asked how to get more women’s sto­ries on screens, Jane doesn’t miss a beat.

“If you are re­ally se­ri­ous about chang­ing the quota of women act­ing and direct­ing, wher­ever there is pub­lic money – tax­pay­ers’ money – they should dis­trib­ute it equally, like 50 per cent to women.

Just like that! Pay women and men equally. Then I think you will find after five years of that re­ori­en­ta­tion, women will get the con­fi­dence that it is re­ally hap­pen­ing in this area.”

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT: Jane and her co-writer Gerard Lee. With Ni­cole Kid­man at Cannes this year. The film-maker and her ac­tress daugh­ter, Top of the Lake star Alice En­glert. OP­PO­SITE: Jane and crew at work.

OP­PO­SITE: A Top of the Lake line-up at Cannes this year, from left: Ni­cole Kid­man, Elis­a­beth Moss, Jane Cam­pion and English ac­tress Gwen­do­line Christie (Game of Thrones), who plays De­tec­tive Robin Grif­fin’s crime-solv­ing part­ner.

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE: Jane and a young Anna Paquin at work on the 1993 film The Piano. Kiss­ing her Best Screen­play Academy Award for The Piano. Elis­a­beth Moss, Gwen­do­line Christie and (bot­tom) Ni­cole Kid­man in Top of the Lake: China Girl.

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