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Jane Campion Isn’t Excited About Film Anymore: ‘Now, The Really Clever People Do Television’

As the lauded filmmaker continues to work in television, including the upcoming "Top of the Lake: China Girl," she reflects on a changing industry (and career).

Nicole Kidman, Elisabeth Moss, Jane Campion and Gwendoline Christie'Top of the Lake: China Girl' photocall, 70th Cannes Film Festival, France - 23 May 2017

Nicole Kidman, Elisabeth Moss, Jane Campion and Gwendoline Christie

James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock

Filmmaker Jane Campion’s cinematic bonafides are unimpeachable: she’s still the only woman to win a Palme d’Or, she’s got one Academy Award under her belt, and she’s already made a seamless transition from deeply personal films to lauded “Peak TV” offerings. And she might not be going back.

In a revealing new interview with The Guardian, Campion is honest about why the small screen is her new favorite home, and why film may no longer have a place for her — or the kind of projects she wants to make.

“The really clever people used to do film,” she told the outlet. “Now, the really clever people do television. I’d been feeling, in the film world, that if you come up with ideas, and you share them, the first concern is: how is the audience going to react?”

The filmmaker behind such films as “The Piano” and “Bright Star” added, “Cinema in Australia and New Zealand has become much more mainstream. It’s broad entertainment, broad sympathy. It’s just not my kind of thing. As a goal, to make money out of entertaining doesn’t inspire me. But in television, there is no concern about politeness or pleasing the audience. It feels like creative freedom.”

Campion first turned to television in 2013, when she co-created the series “Top of the Lake” alongside Gerard Lee, which is now gearing up for a second season after making its debut at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.

In some ways, Campion credits her biggest failure for pushing her to work within new parameters. Her 2003 erotic thriller, “In the Cut,” was savaged by critics and made less than $5 million at the domestic box office (it fared better overseas, ringing up $23.7 million in total returns), and the filmmaker recalls not being thrilled by the way various critics approached the material.


“That was a pretty big disaster in terms of the way it was reviewed,” Campion told The Guardian. “What was really hard about that was that it was mostly reviewed by males, and they hated the female point of view and the way the women were talking about them as objects. Actually, I do think it is a good movie. There are certain women who tell me it’s one of their favourite films.”

After “In the Cut,” Campion didn’t direct another movie for six years. That ended up being a good thing. “I was going to take a break anyway, but I found it really easy, because when you have a failure, nobody rings you up or wants you to do anything,” she told the outlet. “I just wanted to be with my kid a bit more and spent four years being more of a mother.”

Motherhood is a profound theme in “Top of the Lake,” particularly this next season, in which Campion’s own daughter Alice Englert plays the long-estranged daughter of Elisabeth Moss’ character. As ever, Campion’s material reflects her desire to tell stories in which she feels personally invested.

She recalled her early years in filmmaking, when she was more invested in writing the sort of stories that often make their way into her films, eventually realizing that she would have to direct her own projects if she wanted them to hit the screen.

“I had these stories and there was no chance of getting anybody else to do them, so I had to become a director of my own work,” she said. “I wanted to bring my interests and concerns into the cinema. Psychologically, women are forced to look at the world through men’s eyes. I wanted to put the other point of view: what it felt like to be a woman expressing yourself, being free, doing your human stuff in what is a pretty patriarchal society.”

These days, that makes taking that gaze to the small screen.

Campion really opens up in the revealing new interview, which features the filmmaker ruminating on a slew of personal issues (from her family to her neuroses, and nearly everything in between), and it’s a fascinating insight into the vital-as-ever creator. Check out the full interview with Campion over at The Guardian.

“Top of the Lake: China Girl” premieres in September on SundanceTV. Episodes will be made available via Hulu the day after they air. 

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