I know nothing about film nor auteurs. I do have at least a vague grasp of markets:
Twenty-five years ago this month, Jane Campion became the first, and so far the only, female director to win the Cannes film festival, with her wild gothic tale of repression and obsession, The Piano. When Campion broke through and was recognised as an auteur by her male peers – with the Palme d’Or and three Oscars in her handbag – feminists assumed that more women artists would follow in her wake. They were wrong.
There was no great bursting of the financial and cultural dam that held back women film-makers. Instead their work filtered through in drips, excluded from directing blockbusters, and excluded from competition at Cannes and other festivals. “I think we got caught in a complicated supplicancy, a very sophisticated supplicancy,” says Campion.
But now, a quarter of a century later, Campion feels that time is up for supplicancy as the #MeToo movement reverberates in the film industry and beyond. “Right now, we’re in a really special moment. I’m so excited about it. It’s like the Berlin wall coming down, like the end of apartheid. I think we have lived in one of the more ferocious patriarchal periods of our time, the 80s, 90s and noughties. Capitalism is such a macho force. I felt run over.”
Dipping croissants into coffee in Soho on a trip from her home in New Zealand to London, Campion seems the last person anyone would dare to run over, with her iron will, silver hair and ready laugh. But even after The Piano’s success, Campion’s journey was never easy, and her insistence on a stubbornly female gaze in her work did not translate into big box office returns.
That last line being fairly important, no? A film takes some multiples of decamillions of dollars to make and show worldwide. A major studio movie does at least. The people who cough up that cash would quite like to have their money back too.
If female directors making feminist films made beaucoup de cash then investors would line up to pay for them. They don’t, apparently, so…….
The market – note, not capitalism – gets what the market wants. This is even so if there are some millions of women out there who wish to see a film based upon feminist principles and stories. Market demand rather calling forth its own supply.