Jane Campion: ‚Life isn’t a career‘
Jane Campion was the first woman to win a Palme d’Or and only the second ever to be nominated for the best director Oscar. So it comes as a surprise that her latest gig, as president of the Cannes film festival jury, isn’t another act of pioneering gender breakthrough. She’s actually the 10th woman to lead the festival’s prize-giving committee – even if men have done it on 57 other occasions – and shares the honour with some heady company: Jeanne Moreau, Françoise Sagan, Liv Ullmann, Sophia Loren. But as the only female winner, to date, of that top prize, it’s the kind of honour that is her due.
Perhaps inevitably, considering her figurehead status, Campion’s thoughts often turn to what women can and can’t do in the film industry. She won’t knock the festival itself, despite its habit of routinely granting high-profile berths to a coterie of veteran male directors; Cannes has, as she says, „been really kind“ to her, screening her early shorts (one, Peel, won the short film Palme d’Or in 1986) and taking her first feature, Sweetie, three years later, before giving her the ultimate accolade for The Piano in 1993 (shared with Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine).
Even so, she recalls with some horror an event she attended for Cannes‘ 50th anniversary, when she found herself on a stage with all the other Palme d’Or winners – the only woman there. „It was a shocking moment. It was embarrassing for everyone. I think everyone felt that it was really not right.“ She still would be the only woman, but the festival is emphatically not the problem. „My sense is that Cannes is very interested in new voices in cinema, never mind where it comes from or the sex of it. It’s to do with who funds films in the first place.“
„At film schools,“ she says, „the gender balance is about 50/50. Women do really well in short-film competitions. It’s when business and commerce and art come together; somehow men trust men more.“
What’s to be done? „My feeling is we need an Abraham Lincoln figure to get in there, and say – especially when it comes to public money – it has to be equal.“ Citing the state-funding system in Australia and New Zealand in the 70s, she says: „We are 50% of the population. That’s a good point and [state funding] is where you can push really hard and say something’s wrong here, we want change.“ Conversely, though, Campion is wary of the danger of concentrating too hard on ideology. „When I talk to young women film-makers, I say: don’t think about this too much. Being a director is very tough, and you need everything you’ve got just to do your best job. You doing a brilliant job is your best support. Just get on with it.
„Film-making is not about whether you’re a man or a woman; it’s about sensitivity and hard work and really loving what you do. But women are going to tell different stories – there would be many more stories in the world if women were making more films.“
„I didn’t plan it,“ says Campion, „but I see it even more in those terms now than at the time. Back then, it was a cipher for some of my own frustrations about having a voice, and not being seen or heard. But the way women love women is different to the way men love women: women love women who feel real, who are complicated, and not just sex objects. The woman characters in The Piano are created by a woman; Ada was my heroine. That’s the reason it had the impact it did.“