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On Jane Campion, and the Shortage of Female Filmmakers

May 19, 2009

sjff_02_img0599Jane Campion is one of the most renowned film directors working today. In 1993, she won the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or for her film The Piano – and to this day, she is the only female director to have won that prize.

Last week, Campion was back at Cannes, to screen her new film, Bright Star. While at the festival, she made comments about her beliefs as to why there aren’t more high-profile female filmmakers. Specifically, she argued that women may not be emotionally strong enough to handle such competition with men.

From The Guardian:

“I don’t think women grow up with the world of criticism that men grow up with,” said Campion, 55. “It is quite harsh when they experience the world of film-making and have to develop tough skins. But they must put on their coats of armour and get going because we need them.”

She went on to explain how the attitudes in Australia (her current home — she is originally from New Zealand) foster greater gender equality in filmmaking.

From Times Online:

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. It’s part of the expectation.

I respect Jane Campion greatly, and, like her, I also want to see more women gain positions of power in the industry — after all, no woman has ever won the Academy Award for Best Director. (Not that the Academy Awards are the end all and be all of film, but, come on — in the past eight decades, there hasn’t been one year when a woman’s accomplishments were the most notable?) But I can’t help but disagree with her views on why there are so few women in high positions the film industry today. Girls do grow up with criticism — perhaps criticism of a different nature than that which boys experience, but criticism nonetheless. And we know that women, like men, don’t necessarily shy away from competition — though certainly flawed and misguided in other ways, the recent New York Times article about workplace bullying did make a good point that women often work twice as hard as men in order to achieve the same accolades.

But that still doesn’t answer the ultimate question: why are there so few renowned female directors? Is it symptomatic of the same issues women have been struggling with in other work environments for years? Or is there something specific to the film industry that has created an impenetrable boys’ club?

What are your thoughts?

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