Jane Campion was surrounded by familiar faces in the photo. But at the same time, she was alone. She was accompanied by famous gentlemen in suits, such as David Lynch and Ken Loach. All of them were men. Dozens of male directors, and one female creator: her. “It was scary, for everyone I think. If there are no women, no one thinks about it. But if one of them appears, you’re forced to see it,” the 67-year-old New Zealander told EL PAÍS during the Venice Film Festival in September.
The image had been taken at Cannes in 2017, when the French festival brought together all of the Palme d’Or winners on the occasion of its 70th anniversary. At the time, the only female victor was Campion, thanks to The Piano (1993). As well as immortalizing seven decades of inequality, the photo also served to summarize the career of Campion herself: a different, unconventional auteur, often to be found on the margins. And perhaps, because of this, forgotten.
Until The Power of the Dog, that is, which has catapulted her to the top of the list of favorites to win the Academy Award this Sunday for Best Picture and Best Directing. In total, the Western collected 12 nominations, the same number of years that had passed since her last movie.
The bookies are predicting that she will, at least, take the Oscar for Best Directing, as happened at the Venice Film Festival. She would be the third female director to win the prize, after Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2010 and Chloé Zaho for Nomadland in 2021.
But above all else, the award would represent recognition in Hollywood for a filmmaker who, at the age of 67, has made the best film of her career, according to the majority of critics.
“When I was talking to Annie Proulx [the author of the novel Brokeback Mountain] about getting old, now that she has just turned 86, I asked her for a tip. And she said to me, ‘your 60s and 70s are great decades, you are in a fantastic position to look deep inside things. In your 80s you are more rusty.’ And it’s true. My memory is no longer so sharp, but I notice that I am wiser and have more balance. I’m no longer so desperate for approval,” Campion explained at the Italian festival.
Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, The Power of the Dog is the story of two brothers, a widow and her son. But on a deeper level, it is a reflection on identity and masculinity, and the jails from which one can’t escape – even on the plains of the Wild West.
Campion returned to a film set for The Power of the Dog for the first time since Bright Star, which was released in 2009. When she spoke to EL PAÍS in Venice, she pointed out that she had also filmed the television show Top of the Lake, with the same technical set-up. Although there was a difference. “In film, you have two hours to communicate everything. I like it and I miss that somewhat. When I start to see something on Netflix or wherever, I always try to watch a movie.”
As for the streaming platform, the director only has words of gratitude. Unlike filmmakers who have criticized the entertainment giant, such as Christopher Nolan, she is on the side of Alfonso Cuarón or Paolo Sorrentino, who have been able to make their most personal works there. “Nolan makes hugely popular movies,” she said. “But if you are dedicated to making complex stories, as I am, it’s invaluable for Netflix to be interested. I couldn’t have done it without them. This type of cinema needs more appetite. And sooner or later, all movies end up online, even Nolan’s.”
Williams sister controversy
The filmmaker has often freely spoken her mind. A few days ago, she did so again about the Williams sisters, who are portrayed in another movie that is in the running for the Oscars on Sunday, King Richard. At the Critics Choice Awards, Campion said she was “honored” to be in the same room as tennis stars Venus and Serena, but then stated that they “do not play against the guys like I have to.” She later apologized for the controversial comment, but injustice has been a part of her career and that of many other women.
“I grew up in the 1970s, when feminism was a new wave, but in some way it collapsed. It was clear that power was not something that men would easily share. During a good part of my career the perception was that only guys made good movies, and that ours were stupid. I think that this is changing, and all of us benefit from the equality,” she said in September.
Beyond the patriarchy, the director explained that during a shoot she encounters other everyday problems. “You carry responsibility and anxiety with you,” she said. “You are constantly developing strategies so that each sequence gets the best opportunity possible. If you shoot it and it doesn’t come out well, you know that the film will never be what it could have been. It’s a burden, but you can’t offload that on the actors. You need a good psychologist. And you have to be one at the same time. And be kind. Everyone does their best, and if anyone gets mad it’s because they are scared of not getting the best out of themselves. I never judge or criticize the rest of the team. I respect them.” For now, her approach deserves an Oscar for concord. For other prizes, we will have to wait until the ceremony.