“It’s like a marriage” – Jane Campion talks about making her new film, The Power of the Dog

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Jane Campion’s new film The Power of the Dog, based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name, leads the nominations at the BAFTAs and the Academy Awards this month.

This week, we went along to a special screening hosted by BAFTA of the Netflix film starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst, which was followed by an insightful Q&A with its director, New Zealand-born Jane Campion, producer Tanya Seghatchian and Australian cinematographer Ari Wegner – who has already made history with this film as the first woman to be nominated for cinematography at BAFTA.

Deciding to take on the project

Jane: “My stepmother sent me the book and because I had a hole in my life, suddenly, I read it straight way. I thought, “Wow, I’ve actually finished a book!” It’s a great book. I didn’t think about it much more because I didn’t want to make a movie and then I just found myself at different times thinking about the book.

“It’s such a big job, such a big commitment – it’s like a marriage – when you choose to take on writing and directing, that you have to be fairly compelled to do it.

“Tanya and I really made a friendship after Bright Star (the 2009 biographical fiction romantic drama film about poet John Keats) and I thought it would be fun to make it easier to be friends by having a project together since we live so far apart.”

Unfolding the hidden depths of masculinity

Tanya: “Jane was in New Zealand and I’m here in the UK. It started with, “What could we do together?” We both loved the book. Then Jane came over and we both started breaking it down at my kitchen table.

“One of the really exciting things was thinking about Jane, who is a master of sensuality and desire, tackling this book with a male lead and so many hidden depths of masculinity that she could unfold with her particular gaze and vision. It seemed like a really exciting thing to be doing now, in this moment and time, when we have shifting attitudes towards men and women and sexuality. She was going to bring things that Thomas Savage had had to hide out into the open.”

The film industry has opened up towards women

Jane: “It wasn’t lost on me that it was a very topic than one I normally tackle. Thinking about it over time, I really think the opening up of the industry towards women where it’s no longer charitable to have women in lead roles or DOP or a writer and director. It’s actually good business, and there is a real change in the air in the industry which I’m so grateful for – and to all the people who have contributed to it, men and women.”

Why New Zealand was chosen for the location

Jane: “We mooted the idea of New Zealand because it was possibly going to be the way that we make our money work best. We looked at locations and quite quickly we found the farm in Manioto, which I loved immediately. When Tanya and I went to look in Montana, nothing had the same impact on us as that spot in New Zealand.”

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