‘Top of the Lake’: Emmy Nominee Campion Takes Deep Dive Into Character

TV pace not an issue "because I hardly watch television," says Helmer

Jane Campion is an old hand at soup-to-nuts filmmaking, having served as both writer and director on projects from “The Piano” to “Bright Star.” But in tackling her Sundance Channel miniseries “Top of the Lake,” she opted to spread the wealth on both counts, co-writing with Gerard Lee, and splitting directing duties with Garth Davis.

“Gerard Lee and I went to film school together,” Campion says. “I think what makes us work well is that we are not the least bit precious about criticism. We see criticism as a time saver: ‘OK, you hate that idea? Great, I’ll drop it.’”

The miniseries tells the story of a 12-year-old’s disappearance from a dour, secretive, fictional settlement on the banks of New Zealand’s Lake Wakatipu, whose environs form something of an autonomous character on their own.

Top of the Lake” was Campion’s first television project since her 1990 “An Angel at My Table,” yet it remains thoroughly cinematic, even debuting at last January’s Sundance Film Festival, where its seven hours were consumed in a single sitting.

“Comparing film with television pacing didn’t come into my calculations because I hardly watch television,” she says. “What I really wanted to do was have the space to explore the relationships, characters and atmosphere and yet keep the narrative. I guess we were going for depth rather than pace.”

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