This week at the Venice Film Festival, guests got to see Oscar-winner Jane Campion’s first feature since 2009’s Bright Star.
Set in 1920’s Montana and shot in New Zealand, Netflix-backed film The Power Of The Dog stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a brutal, wealthy rancher who inspires fear and awe in those around him until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love. Also starring are Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee.
Campion is one of only five women directors in Venice’s Competition this year, a reduction from eight in 2020. Until earlier this year, the New Zealander was the only woman to win a Palme d’Or. She is the second of only seven women ever nominated for a Best Director Oscar.
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Campion was asked at today’s Venice press conference for The Power Of The Dog what needs to be done for women directors to be able to progress.
“I think the girls are doing very well,” the filmmaker said, citing the recent successes of Oscar winner Chloe Zhao and Palme d’Or winner Julia Ducournau.
She continued: “I think once you give them a chance, there’s not going to be much stopping them. I know the statistics still aren’t in women’s favour. It’s a great loss for everyone that there aren’t feminine voices describing our world and who we are. We come to believe we are a patriarchy when that isn’t the case. Women do think differently and that’s what beautiful and interesting. We see that [gender balance] more in TV where women directors are doing very well. Since the MeToo movement, I feel a change in the weather. For women, it has been like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the end of Apartheid. Women are emboldened and are supported by each other and by men as well.”
The Power Of The Dog is based on Montana author Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel about sibling rivalry, masculinity and repressed homosexuality.
Campion said of her inspiration and why she chose to focus on a male centric story: “I don’t calculate in terms of gender. I read this book and thought it was an amazing piece of literature…This is a very deep piece that works on the psyche.”
Cumberbatch said of his character: “His toxicity is a product of his upbringing. I can understand it. I don’t condone it. It’s part of who he is. It’s part of his flaw and personal tragedy. I understand that he is repressed, isolated and worried about what he has created being taken away. In terms of toxic masculinity, the only way you can change it it is to go toward it and try to understand it. You can’t just oppose it, that’s fuel on the fire. You need to understand why these damaged people are causing damage to themselves and to others, whether that’s world leaders and strong men like we’ve seen in politics over the last few years, or whether that’s something in your own life or culture.”
Kirsten Dunst said that she and Cumberbatch kept their distance on set and barely spoke to each other, out of design.
Campion has spent much of the last decade writing and directing for TV. The director spoke about working with Netflix and the film’s cinematic prospects: “One of the great things about working with Netflix was that it gave me an opportunity to work with a budget I haven’t had the chance to work with before, to fully express my vision. They’re like the Medicis, or something. I’m very grateful for that. We have the chance to screen the film in cinemas with a 2-3 week corridor before it goes online. I think some people will choose to see it in cinemas. I was drawn to the project because it is a piece of event cinema.”
Pic is written and directed by Campion. Emile Sherman, Iain Canning, Roger Frappier, Tanya Seghatchian and Campion are producers. DP is Ari Wegner. Editor is Peter Scibberas. The film’s music was composed by Jonny Greenwood.