You are known to work very hard on your projects. What project cost you the most, took the most of your time?
I think every film is like doing a degree because it usually takes me about three years. But I love to work, as it just feels like following my passion. I give each project my full attention. When I was young in my twenties I had a friend who wanted to become a photographer. I was living with him at the time and I saw his dedication, his work, how he spent every minute looking at other photographers, researching all the time and practicing. It really taught me something that I didn’t understand before: that if you want to be good at what you do, you have to work at it all the time, it has to be an obsession. I have seen young filmmakers and I can see they don’t understand, they just say “I’m making a first feature”! Come on, go work, there is so much to do in preparation and if you don’t do your preparation, excuse me but you’re fucked!
Jane Campion © AFP / LV
Is it possible to make a first movie without a diploma?
I think the diplomas are absolutely no use whatsoever. Your diploma really is the short films that you make. Sometimes I think education is corrupting the situation because they need to be part of a degree course, of something that has been acceptable to the government in order to get the funding and it has nothing to do with making films. “You have to make your films and to do good films, that’s it”. I suggest everyone throw their diploma away because they’ll never get a job with it. Never.
Do you naturally choose strong female characters in your movies? Is it a real decision and why?
I don’t think all my characters are really strong. I think Janet Frame was very fragile and insecure, for example, so I don’t think she is a quintessentially strong person. I’m not interested in strong people, sometimes apparently strong people, even myself, cover vulnerability. I’m interested in knowing something underneath it. I think that in my life I always learn the most when I’m vulnerable. But it’s always a bit uncomfortable. When you’re uncomfortable, you’re probably in a good place.
Your movies always show how beautiful New Zealand is. is your country your main source of inspiration ?
I grew up in New Zealand. I love the bush. I love walking in it, I feel free, I feel happy, I love the wild sea coast. My parents had a farm from when I was thirteen from the main road down to the ocean and I’d have a horse and I’d ride it. It’s a very romantic idea but actually the horse behaved very badly! There’s a big difference between the romance and the reality. I always wanted to go down the beach with him but my horse had other ideas and he always wanted to go home. I always loved the atmosphere of feeling different landscapes, environments. I’m very sensitive to that, maybe a little bit hyper-sensitive actually. I think that makes you very aware of where you are. Nature can be very ugly as well. Truth is beauty and beauty is truth, which is a kind of puzzle.
Top of the Lake is a huge success. What is your next project, a series or a movie?
Next project is a new series connected to Top of the Lake and it’s in Australia, but I like it to be secret.
The series get more and more important compared to the movies. What do you consider that the series have that the movies don’t?
Number one you don’t have to do so much press when you do a series.
Number two you can really develop characters and have fun with them and give them some big moments and speeches.
Number three for me it’s not so stressful. But when I do the series I start thinking maybe I’d like to write a story in less time! I’d like to do another feature maybe! To be honest I’m really put off by the amount of promotion you need to do for a feature. I’d rather have less money to have less promotion. To me a movie becomes successful because the audience really wants it, promotion or no promotion! And if a movie is bad, the promotion won’t help!
You often say you feel like a child of Cannes. You’ve been coming here for 30 years and you are the only woman who has won the Palme d’or. How do you feel when you are in Cannes?
It feels very unreal in a way. I was joking, “Oh God I’m the President”! It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve done enough work to be capable of being the president, but apparently I am the president! I’m very familiar with the Festival, I do feel like part of the family. I guess this will be my last time as a Jury member, I’ve done my cycle, my Cannes career cycle! I wouldn’t have the same career without the Cannes film festival. It helped financers back home believe in me. I remember people, before I went to Cannes, who said about The Piano: it is very interesting but this is a very little film ! And I remember thinking: maybe but..., maybe not !
Interview by Charlotte Pavard