One of the world’s most distinguished directors has been a trailblazer for female filmmakers throughout her career.
Jane Campion was nominated for Best Director at the 1993 Academy Awards for her acclaimed third feature The Piano– the second female filmmaker in the history of the Oscars to receive the honour, after Lina Wertmüller in 1975.
Campion was also the first woman to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes for The Piano, although she had previously received the prestigious award in the Short Film category in 1986.
A trailblazer for female filmmakers throughout her career, Campion has of course weighed in on the topic of gender politics in the entertainment industry. “We’re a long way from really understanding the female experience of being in the world,” she told Variety in 2017. “There’s not enough female storytellers out there. We’ve been brainwashed a bit by the patriarchal experience of the whole way of being in the world.”
Born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1954, Jane Campion graduated with a Diploma in Visual Arts (Painting) from Sydney University, and given that she now resides in Australia, we can claim another accomplished Kiwi as our own.
Campion has applied her artistic background to moviemaking; her films are rich and detailed canvases painted with moody brushstrokes, depicting determined female protagonists fighting against repression to take control of their own destinies.
Having explored dysfunctional family dynamics in her auspicious feature debut Sweetie (1989), Campion quickly established herself as one of New Zealand’s finest filmmakers with An Angel at My Table (1990), a lengthy biopic on Kiwi writer Janet Frame that won a slew of international film festival awards.
“I’ve never known how to behave myself in the way people are supposed to,” Campion has said. Nor has she conformed to commercial trappings and conventional narratives, putting the ‘art’ into arthouse and polarising viewers with lyrical, ambiguous and emotionally dense stories told from a female perspective.
The Piano can be considered Campion’s most accessible film, while both Holy Smoke (1999) and In the Cut (2003) are her most divisive – the latter a confronting study of female sexual empowerment starring a cast-against-type Meg Ryan. The Portrait of a Lady (1996), her adaptation of Henry James’ 1881 novel, also divided critics, receiving a lukewarm reception in the wake of The Piano‘s success.
More recently, Campion joined the migration of acclaimed filmmakers to television, sharing directing duties with Garth Davis (Lion) and Ariel Kleiman on two seasons of detective series Top of the Lake, starring the always exceptional Elisabeth Moss.
Influential, insightful and providing a powerful voice for female characters and filmmakers alike, Jane Campion is a one-of-a kind auteur.