At last weekend’s Etheria Film Night, director Lexi Alexander received an award for inspiring women directors. In her acceptance speech, Alexander bemoaned the current statistics, but she also asked, “When they look back in history, they will say, ‘What were these women doing?’” Alexander called the audience to action and encouraged them to make their movies, to tell their story.
Celebrating work by women directors remains integral to Seeking Our Story, a Los Angeles-based screening series. Though many of us attended film school, Seeking Our Story challenges our knowledge by pursuing an alternative film history. By focusing exclusively on women directors, the series hopes to find an answer to the same question so aptly proposed by Alexander: What were these women doing?
In addition to watching films by women directors, the series promotes an academic understanding of these filmmakers’ work and careers. In anticipation of Jane Campion’s The Piano (screening Friday, July 25th at 8 PM at MiMoDa Studio), this is a story of Campion’s career.
Born in Wellington, New Zealand, Jane Campion was the second child to two prominent theatrical professionals. After receiving her bachelor’s from Victoria University, Campion moved to Sydney, studied painting, and enrolled in the Australian Film, Television, and Radio School. Interview Magazine quoted Campion on her experience as a student filmmaker:
“I did this Super-8 film at art school called Tissues… I was absolutely thrilled by every inch of it, and would throw my projector in the back of my car and show it to anybody who would watch it. Then one day someone said to me, 'You don't have any wide shots in the film.' And I said, 'Wide shots? What are they?' That comment kind of blew my whole world apart, and I realized that I did not have any idea of what I was up to. So over the next few years I went on a very self-conscious quest to understand film language.”
Campion’s early projects gained notoriety at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival, including a top award for her short titled An Exercise in Discipline – Peel. Three years later, her first feature, Sweetie, was screened in competition. Campion won second prize at the Venice Film Festival for her next feature, An Angel at My Table (1990). She returned to Cannes in 1993 with The Piano and walked away sharing the Palme d’Or – the first, and so far the only, woman to ever win the top award at the festival. The film went on to international success, including Oscar nominations for actress Holly Hunter, a win for young Anna Paquin, a Best Screenplay award for Campion, and a nomination for Best Director. Campion was only the second woman ever to be nominated for directing by the Academy; it took over ten more years before a woman won the prize.
Campion followed The Piano with a series of star-studded features: The Portrait of a Lady (1996) with Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich, Holy Smoke (1999) with Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel, and In the Cut (2003) with Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo. After raising her daughter, Campion returned to Cannes in 2009 with Bright Star, a story of poet John Keats, featuring Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw. Her 2013 mini-series Top of the Lake, starting Elisabeth Moss, recently received eight Emmy nominations.
Campion came back to the Croisette again in 2013 as President of the Cannes Cinéfondation & Short Films Jury, where she also received the Carrosse d'Or by the French Film Directors' Society. She returned this past spring to lead the 2014 Feature Film Jury as President. When interviewed by The Guardian during her 2014 Cannes Presidency, Campion said, “Film-making is not about whether you're a man or a woman; it's about sensitivity and hard work and really loving what you do. But women are going to tell different stories – there would be many more stories in the world if women were making more films."
Doors open at 7:30PM, and film starts at 8:00PM. This is a community screening with donations accepted at the door. Please RSVP.
Samantha Shada is a Los Angeles based story teller and artistic entrepreneur. She produces the Seeking Our Story series, screening an alternative approach to film history by highlighting the works of women directors.