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Director Jane Campion: ‘Indefatigable pioneer’ of film ‘At Cannes actors are discovered, careers are made’

PARIS, May 10, (AFP): Head of the Cannes jury Jane Campion made her name portraying complex, strong-willed female protagonists and knows from first-hand experience that the festival is a place where careers are made. The New Zealand director, the only woman ever to win the top Palme d’Or Prize with “The Piano”, was a little known arthouse film-maker when she brought her movie to the French Riviera in 1993. The New Zealand-set movie about a mute pianist and her daughter starring Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill and Anna Paquin, went on to pick up three Oscars and was a huge critical and commercial hit. After being named as head of the jury earlier this year, Campion, 60, described the festival as a “mythical and exciting” place where “amazing things can happen”.

At Cannes, she said, “actors are discovered, films are financed, careers are made”. “I know this because that is what happened to me,” she added. Born in Wellington in New Zealand, the second of three children, Campion grew up in a theatrical family. But despite this early exposure — her mother was a writer and actress, her father a theatre director and producer — Campion did not set out to become a film-maker. Instead, she studied for a degree in anthropology in New Zealand before concentrating on art in both London and Sydney.

Calling
Only later did Campion find her calling at the Australian Film Television and Radio School between 1981 and 1984. Campion first came to Cannes in 1986 when she won best short film with “Peel”. In 1989, her first feature film “Sweetie” — the story of a young woman’s difficult relationship with her unstable sister — was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or and she returned with “An Angel at my Table” (1990), based on the autobiographies of New Zealand author Jane Frame. Many of Campion’s films revolve around themes of gender balance and throughout her career critics have singled her out for bringing qualities of innovation, imagination and intelligence to her work.

Head
Announcing her as the head of the 2014 jury, Cannes festival organisers called Campion a “major film-maker and indefatigable pioneer”. In the just published French book “Jane Campion by Jane Campion”, film historian Michel Ciment said each of Campion’s films had “as its centre a protagonist who fights for her... autonomy”. Movies exploring familiar Campion themes include “The Portrait of a Lady” (1996), an adaptation of the Henry James novel starring Nicole Kidman, and “Holy Smoke” (1999) in which Kate Winslet plays a woman who experiences a spiritual awakening on a trip to India. Campion also cast Meg Ryan in “In The Cut” (2003) as a New York writing professor who has an affair with a detective investigating a local murder.

As well as features, Campion has branched out into documentaries such as “Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story” (2006) about a Japanese student kidnapped by a North Korean agent in 1977. Most recently, she followed the many others in film now looking to the small screen as a place for more creative freedom. Her television mini-series “Top of the Lake” about a detective, played by Elizabeth Moss, who returns to her home town and finds herself investigating a child abuse case, was a hit with audiences and also won a string of awards.

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