Jane Campion, the first woman filmmaker to have received a Palme d’Or in Cannes (for “The Piano” in 1993), is in Lyon for another first, as she becomes the first female filmmaker to pick up the Lumière Prize at the eponymous film festival.
Warmly greeted by an enthusiastic crowd for a masterclass at the city’s historic Théâtre des Célestins, Campion answered questions by festival director Thierry Frémaux, who also runs the Cannes Festival.
On the question of the place of women filmmakers in cinema, which the festival has been raising awareness about since its inception with a special section dedicated to them, Campion said to Frémaux: “Women are artists as well, every female filmmaker I know just wants to be seen first as a creative person, because it’s annoying to us to hear “a woman filmmaker” – a filmmaker is enough, I mean you don’t go around saying “a male filmmaker”… but that may come!” she quipped, to the audience’s delight.
“I feel very strongly about equality and diversity,” she said on a more serious note, “but when you think about a whole half of the world population it’s a desperate situation, and so it’s exciting to begin feeling the change happening – there is no better way than women making amazing work and that’s happening,” she said referring to filmmakers like Julia Ducournau, whose “Titane” became the second film by a female director to pick up the Palme d’Or this year and has been selected to represent France in the International Feature Film Oscar race.
Asked about the creative process behind her latest film, “The Power of the Dog”, an adaptation of the 1967 novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, which picked up the Silver Lion for best director in Venice and was premiered at Lumière, Campion explained: “The process starts with me falling in love, feeling that over time the book had deep tentacles within me. I admired it in so many ways, as a literary structure. The story is like a figure of eight – weaving around the four main characters – like the rope they make,” she said, referring to a recurrent and symbolic scene in the film. “It’s almost like a snake eating its own tale, when you get them in a harmony together it’s a very powerful story – it’s rare to get this but it’s in this film.”
For Campion, it was crucial to “do the film justice”: “Especially if it’s an adaptation, I fell a sense of duty to the author who, in this case, is dead. I find it so beautiful that you can communicate across centuries so intimately with an author, and I want to do something beautiful for them. It’s the gift of human life to resonate with another human being so I take it really seriously,” she said.
Looking back at her career, Campion said that she had always wanted to be a filmmaker, but it took her a while to realize that the only way to get there was to start making films. “Instead of believing I had potential I realized I should stop wondering about it and put all my energy into whatever I was doing.”
“In the beginning I was not very successful but I was so happy,” she smiles. “Then I started to discover almost a sacred link between my energy and my psyche – I guess it’s what people call creativity. It seems to come from somewhere beyond yourself, it’s a link into the unconscious and the divine – it’s what brings us all together – it’s so exciting and so unknown. When you feel that connection it’s not something to take lightly.”
“Trust” was a word that came back repeatedly during the conversation with Jane Campion: Trust in ones own fate and in others.
“I really believe in seeing something in your mind, your fate, and then you have to trust. Trust is a very powerful, working muscle – you can trust something into happening, it creates an energy field,” she explained. “Whenever you doubt, that project looses the energy and belief, but if you have this love around it, it’s a place where it can grow. I use the same theory with actors or anybody coming into the project,” she added.
On her sources of inspiration, Campion said her interests were broad, but her master was Francis Ford Coppola.
“I consider him my teacher even though I never met him. I just love the work he does with actors, he’s really a master at choosing amazing actors and creating situation where they do their best work,” she said, adding she had pursued her own private study of his cinema: “He’s one of the filmmakers whose work you can see time and again.”
Before leaving the masterclass, Campion announced she is planning to open a pop-up film school, starting with at least ten people, to teach them filmmaking,
“Its important to facilitate the learning. I find people come to me asking for help, how to start, where to begin. I don’t think I can teach, I don’t think you can teach anyone anything. But I believe you can create circumstances where they can teach themselves.”
As they rounded up the conversation ahead of the ceremony where Campion will be awarded the Prix Lumière, Frémaux was keen to stress, in English, that the prize is “not a life-achievement award but for now, present work, for the future and not the past.”
Campion follows in the footsteps of the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Jane Fonda, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood and Quentin Tarantino in receiving Lyon’s now classic film festival Prix Lumière.