Women too sensitive to succeed as film directors, says Campion

Only female winner of Palme d'Or says her gender has to learn to take criticism

Arts Correspondent,Arifa Akbar
Saturday 16 May 2009 00:00 BST

She is the only woman to have won the prized Palme d'Or in the 62-year history of the Cannes Film Festival and is among a tiny handful of the world's best directors to have been recognised twice there.

Jane Campion yesterday sounded a rallying call for other women to "put on their coats of armour" and take on the male-dominated world of movie-directing.

Campion has declared herself a feminist in previous interviews and has bemoaned the lack of female directors. She is now suggesting it is time for women to toughen themselves up.

Women tend to find criticism hard to bear, said Campion, whose latest film, Bright Star, is in the running for the Palme D'Or at Cannes.

"I think women grow up without a lot of harsh criticism, they are treated more sensitively and it's quite hard when you first enter the world of film-making," she said yesterday. "But women must put on their coats of armour and get going.

"I would love to see more women directors because they represent half of the population and gave birth to the whole world. Without them, the rest are not getting to know the whole story."

The director, who once said "tragedy makes you grow up", admitted film studios still had a "distrust" of women's abilities. Describing the studio system as sexist, she said one of the reasons for there being a relatively large army of female film-makers in her native New Zealand was that the country did not have a thriving studio tradition.

"I think the studio system is kind of an old boys' system," she said. "It's difficult for them to trust women to be capable. I have been very, very lucky because some of our cinema is state-sponsored so they have to be fair to both men and women," she said.

Campion, 55, is one of three female film-makers in this year's competition, whose jury president is Isabelle Huppert, only the fourth woman in the history of the festival to take this role.

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Yet Campion has been the first to speak up about the difference between the sexes at the festival. Only days ago Huppert said "cinema is universal" and with a shrug of the shoulders, added that she was just "happy" to be one of only four female judges since the festival was founded.

While she has seen success at Cannes, no female director has ever won an Oscar and only three have ever been nominated, including Campion with The Piano.

Campion first came to Cannes in 1986, when her Peel won the Palme d'Or for short films. Then, in 1993, Campion jointly won the Golden Palm for The Piano.

Bright Star is her first feature film in six years and it dramatises the intense love affair between the Romantic poet John Keats and his fiery neighbour in north London, Fanny Brawne.

The British actor Ben Whishaw is cast as the poet, who died at the age of 25. Campion told the story through Fanny's eyes, she said, because was drawn to her character after reading Andrew Motion's biography of Keats.

"The history of their relationship caught me unawares. It was so exciting," Campion said.

Celluloid ceiling: Awards for directors

*Academy Award for Best Director

Total awards: 84

Women: 0 Men: 84

*Golden Globe for Best Director

Total awards: 66

Women: 1 (1983, Barbra Streisand – Yentl) Men: 65

*Palme d'Or

Total awards: 68

Women: 1 (1993, Jane Campion – The Piano) Men: 67

*Bafta for Best Direction

Total awards: 41

Women: 0 Men: 41

*Silver Bear Best Director (Berlin)

Total awards: 51

Women: 1 (1979, Astrid Henning-Jensen – Vinterborn) Men: 50

Cannes Diary

New 'Heights'

Cathy, the tempestuous central character of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, has been captured on film by cinema royalty including Merle Oberon (opposite Laurence Olivier), Juliette Binoche and Yvonne Mitchell. Cathy is now to be reprised by the one-time Bond girl, Gemma Arterton. The Kent-born actress will star opposite Ed Westwick, from the US television series Gossip Girl, as Heathcliff.

Let there be rock

Ang Lee, whose film Taking Woodstock, which stars the British actress Imelda Staunton, stumbled across the story (based on the book about the true-life story of Elliot Tiber; see review, right) by accident while he was booked to appear on a San Francisco talk show to discuss his film Lust, Caution in 2007. It was there that he came across Mr Tiber, who was on the show to discuss the book. The two men got chatting on the set and Lee's curiosity was piqued. Lee recalls: "A few days later, an old friend from film school called. He told me he had heard that Elliot had given me the book and encouraged me to read it."

Poetry please

Ben Whishaw, the Bedford-born actor and star of Jane Campion's Bright Star, who plays the John Keats, admitted he held a prejudice against Romantic poets before embarking on the film. "I didn't really know much about him (Keats) at all," Whishaw confessed . "I liked modern stuff but I have grown to love the luxury and sensuality of Keats' writing."

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