While her films are about more than sex, Jane Campion is considered by many a definitive auteur in eroticism on the big screen (incidentally, Campion is, to date, the only woman to have won the Palm d’Or and the second woman to be nominated for an Oscar for best director.) While for some the idea of directing (or acting in) the kind of intimate scenes Campion has had as a director sound terrifying, this often taboo area in filmmaking is part of what gives her strength. But when she first started out, she had no ambition to become a director; it seemed totally out of reach.  

Sitting alongside actress and fellow Sundance juror Tessa Thompson in a Cinema Café conversation at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Campion had a myriad of colorful anecdotes to share about her career and the driving forces behind the types of films she likes to make.

Take a look at the recording of the livestream below and check out some of our most scintillating takeaways.

It's OK to start with zero ambition and decide to go for it along the way

It worked for Jane! She described how she had zero ambition to have a career in the beginning.

“I never in my life thought that i could be a director. I thought those people [filmmakers] were geniuses. I never thought of myself that id be able to do it.”

It took a little while, and some fortunate dead-end relationships, until Campion decided to commit to becoming a filmmaker. And when she did, she decided to go for it one step at a time.

"I didn’t think of a career. I just thought of spilling my guts. I went to film festivals – I made an animated film – and I hought, two minutes up there for people to see it would be the best ever. I started aiming just at the step above me. Then, ‘Oh what about a longer short? I honestly never thought I’d be a feature film director…I just fell in over with projects. I wanted to do them as well as I could.”

Recognize what makes a short film get recognized

Campion explained that eventually, when she committed to the pursuit of being a director, she went back to school for it, and her experience at an ‘art school’ was a revolutionary way to rethink everything she knew. Eventually, it led to her making films, including her first 16mm short Peel that played at Cannes and put her on the map as an emerging director.

“Going to film school, I was like, fuck this is my 3rd gig in school. And  my parents were like, 'This is sad.’ But at least I’m getting paid to go this time! 

I got every short film out of the library that had won an award, to see what made them stand out. Every single one had something that did.”

Here’s a clip of the film she ended up making, Peel, that actually sent her to the hospital after she worked so hard on it. She was embarrassed about how she mismanaged her health, saying, “If people know that I’ve made a 8 minute-film and I’m in a hospital, I’ll never get a career!“

You can watch the whole film for free at NZOnScreen here.


Why more than bodies makes her films sexy

When asked about how she as a director navigates areas of sexual power (in particular female) on screen, she described that she works with actors who are willing to explore that area. For her, it’s an essential component of storytelling.

“It’s always difficult. But if you use everything you have that you’ve got, we are humans with bodies and figures, and we bring that to art. There’s a culture around it now that makes it difficult – everyone has sex with bras on in the movies! And I understand that too…why would you bother in this story to be so revealed?

I love my actors. If they would say they didn’t feel comfortable , I wouldn’t go there. 

It's only because they are ok with going there that we do. I deal with a view of sexuality which is about intimacy, and a certain radical honesty, that I think is sexy as much as bodies.”

For more, see our ongoing list of coverage of the coverage of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.


No Film School's podcast and editorial coverage of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by RODE Microphones and Blackmagic Design.