Lydia Jenkin: Championing Campion

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Jane Campion. Photo / Supplied
Jane Campion. Photo / Supplied

While it seemed like the rest of our local media had their eyes firmly trained on Wellywood and Peter Jackson last week, I was over in Sydney, listening to another of our most famous directors, Jane Campion, talking about filming around our southern wilderness herself.

In fact, though there were no dwarves involved, there were apparently still traces of The Hobbit to be found, when Campion and her crew began filming her latest project Top of the Lake in the Wakatipu Basin earlier this year.

Campion is something of a personal hero - she's made a name for herself creating critically acclaimed films that never shy away from difficult subject matter, is one of only four women to have been nominated for the Best Director Academy Award, and is the first female to ever receive the Palme d'Or. Plus she's done it all without pandering to Hollywood, or releasing anything that could be called a chick-flick.

So it was a privilege to hear her talk, and get a sneak peek at Top of the Lake, which looks set to be one of the most anticipated releases of 2013 - though this one won't be a film, but rather a six-part miniseries to be screened worldwide.

Written and directed by Campion, Top of the Lake has allowed her to delve into her deep love of multi-strand crime mysteries - though you can be sure this is no CSI.

"We're pretty much aiming to be the anti-CSI," she laughed during the Q&A session last Thursday.

There's no shining special UV lights around the room to find blood splatter or semen, it's about the characters, and their motivations. "It's more like Who magazine meets Jung," she noted, cryptically.

If that doesn't leave you much the wiser, think along the lines of the Scandinavian crime dramas that have permeated pop culture of late, except set in the wild lands of outer Glenorchy and fringes of Queenstown (turns out it's not just a sunny adventure tourism capital), and populated with some distinctively Campion-esque characters.

The story revolves around the disappearance of pregnant 12-year-old Tui, the daughter of a local drug lord, who was last seen standing chest deep in a lake, and inexperienced Detective Robyn Griffin, played by Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), who's determined to figure it all out.

There's local and international star power involved, creating a multi-accented cast of characters living in a paradise that's less idyllic than expected. Local boy Jay Ryan plays an intimidating young thug. You'll also see Robyn Malcolm as a spirited member of a women's camp, run by a guru played by long-time Campion collaborator Holly Hunter, and then there's Peter Mullan as the drug lord, and David Wenham as the local cop.

It's the kind of crime drama where everyone is vulnerable - the victims and the investigators, and everyone has moral shades of grey.

And it's the kind of drama that needed to unfold over the course of six hours, instead of being cut down to two.

"I love novels, and I love having long relationships with characters. There's a chance to create more character depth" Campion explained.

"And TV is the new film" she laughed. "I don't know anyone who has a small screen at home anymore."

Indeed, there are many shows being created which have the same cinematic scope and high quality production as a film (Deadwood is the one that pricked Campion's attention apparently), and in an age where it's hard for indie films to get funding, television offers a viable alternative.

I, for one, am very glad that Campion is making a long-form series - in my eyes, she's as worthy of six hours viewing as any Hobbit-related stories.

- NZ Herald

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