"I think television came alive to me when I was aware that people — some very bright, extraordinary people like HBO or Showtime — were commissioning really radical work," Jane Campion said at a special panel on television at the Berlin International Film Festival this week. "That was shockingly exciting. There must have been an audience there that they were aware of and responding to that we didn't quite know in cinema anymore. When I first became of aware of these new series that were coming out, I was in my living room watching them and I was just like 'oh my God.' I couldn't believe it. So to me it's all about how daring people like HBO, BBC2… That make it possible. It's really not just television. Television is mostly rubbish. Clearly. It's particular networks and particular commissioners."
Campion was on the panel because her own contribution to this new trend — the six-part miniseries "Top of the Lake" — is screening in Berlin before it hits the small screen via the Sundance Channel in the US and BBC2 in the UK later this year.
"What they said to us when we started this project was 'what we want is your voice… be as outrageous as you want to… don't hold back,'" Campion said. "I was like, 'what'?? It was a very different and provocative education."
"Top of the Lake" stars Elisabeth Moss, Peter Mullan, David Wenham and Campion's "Piano" actress Holly Hunter in a thriller about a detective tasked with uncovering hidden secrets in a tiny New Zealand town. Co-directed with Garth Davis, its Campion's follow-up to her acclaimed 2009 feature film "Bright Star." And she seemed relieved to switch mediums.
"I think quite clearly independent cinema is struggling," she said. "It's difficult to get people out to the cinemas. And there's not a lot of art house cinemas around, at least compared to when I started making films. They used to be about where you went to find out about life and have different voices talking to you in an intimate and interesting way. I don't think that's really happening now. People are trying to second guess what an audience wants. Occasionally maybe two or three films a year will be truly innovative. But most of them try and second guess the audience."
Campion had no such issues with the folks she collaborated with making "Top of the Lake."
"I have to say these people are very experienced and very clever and I was very grateful for the feedback that they offered," Campion said of Sundance Channel and BBC2. "I thought they did it very respectfully and I was impressed that television in general seems to be more horizontal in the power structure. When you meet people from the channel, everybody introduces themselves. There's a sense of equality."
Though this isn't all to say Campion has given up on cinema altogether…
"There's still people making amazing movies, don't get me wrong," she said. "I saw 'The Master,' 'Seven Psychopaths,' 'Killing Me Softly' recently and loved them… I think what people really love are stories and stories that are stretching us in some way. That are really thrilling to our lives still. It's not just business. The business comes after. But you know, when you've got people as extraordinary as say, Paul Thomas Anderson… They're so creative, they're so exciting. For me, that's what it's all about."