Elevate Difference


Interview with Jane Campion

Over the past twenty years, director Jane Campion has created some of the most thrilling depictions of femininity on screen. From the Academy Award-winning The Piano to the dirty yet pretty _In the Cut_, Campion's sensually earthy films depict worlds seen through the eyes of women. The typical stargazing Campion femme is strong and deeply confident about the power of her creative mind.

When I was nine years old, Holly Hunter’s Ada McGrath was different from any other female character I’d seen. Though mute, Ada uses her passion for music to communicate her inner most feelings and desires. That performance profoundly effected my views of womanhood and since then I’ve followed Campion’s career closely. After seeing Bright Star, which is based on the love affair between the poet John Keats and his neighbor Fanny Brawne, I jumped for joy when the opportunity to talk with Campion about the film, her career, and a special feminist moment she experienced recently.

What attracted you to the relationship between John Keats and Fanny Brawne enough to make a film about it?

The love letters that existed and the impact their story had on me emotionally. It’s very moving, especially considering the restriction for young women during Brawne's time.

How do you feel about Fanny and the other heroines in your films?

I love them all. I see the world through women’s eyes. I wasn’t trying to make Fanny into a heroine. I just think she’s a young woman who was unusually strong.

You go to great lengths to make the relationship feel loving on both sides, though some people think Fanny was just with him for the fame. Why do you think Fanny kept Keats’ letters?

That’s the most foolish thing I’ve ever heard! Keats died completely unknown. The idea that she kept the letters because he might be famous is absurd. He had on his headstone: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." Fanny totally loved the man. She never talked about their relationship. She felt that their love affair was misunderstood. She thought he was misunderstood, and that was painful for him. She kept the letters because she loved him. Her children selling the letters was not her doing.

And probably not very fair to her.

Well, I don’t know. I don’t believe identities hold once we’re gone. What they did on this earth belongs to all of us. We’re just human beings and it would be very sad to me if letters and other belongings didn’t exist. If they didn’t, we would never have known about this story. They were terribly private together, but that’s what makes it so interesting.

I saw the film about three weeks ago, and I just can’t stop thinking about it. It’s in my stomach, and I can’t get it over the feeling it left in me.

It’s a very visceral, tender experience. It’s just what Keats would have loved!

What are your thoughts about female filmmakers today?

One of the most beautiful moments for me on this tour was in New York. When at the premiere Sofia Coppola, Zoe Cassavetes, Mira Nair, and Julie Taymor all came up to me together, and I just went “Ooh, girls!”

That’s quite a crew!

Yes, it’s a fantastic crew! People often say that women don’t support each other and here was an example and feeling of extreme support.

What do you want audiences to walk away with after seeing Bright Star?

The right point of view! (Laughs.) I love the story. I’m very pleased I could do it some justice and that people are enjoying it too.

Written by: Sara Freeman, October 1st 2009

I have one more comment. I am deeply disappointed in so many women filmmakers. Why? Because so few of them have made films about out-of-the-closet feminists doing real feminist activism.

I know all about "market realities" but as far as I can see, these filmmakersdon't want to identify as feminists and they don't want to be activists. When pressed, they will say they're grateful to the women's movement, but there's no sense of "I want to give back to a movement that has given so much to me."

I saw The Piano and was quite disappointed. I don't have time to go into details, but the story line certainly didn't challenge patriarchy and in the end, the female lead succombed to the macho man's "charms" and threw the piano into the ocean.

bell hooks wrote a marvelous feminist critique of The Piano. If it's not on the Internet anymore, please ask for her permission to post it on your fine site.