Wellington Scoop

Film festival diary: Top of the Lake

by Lindsay Shelton
Jane Campion was given a long ovation at the film festival on Saturday afternoon, even before she had started to speak. It was the warmest of welcomes from a home town audience in the Embassy Theatre – 600 of us, ready to spend six hours viewing her latest production.

“Top of the Lake – China Girl” had earned a standing ovation at Cannes two months ago – one of the first two television series ever given official selection in the world’s pre-eminent film festival.

NZIFF photo by Victoria Vincent

Jane acknowledged the fact that the Wellington Film Festival had supported her since she made her first films. (The festival showed Passionless People, and then Sweetie, and then An Angel at my Table.) She said it was special for her to return to Wellington and to know that audiences in her home town were welcoming her. She talked about her memories of growing up in Wellington – including walking the family dog on the hills above Thorndon – and the emotions every time she returns to her home town (from Sydney, where she lives).

But her co-writer Gerard Lee told us that we wouldn’t be getting her back – even though New Zealand has made her a Dame. He talked about first meeting her when they were students at film school, and identifying her as someone special. He spoke about how Jane decided on the villain of the production – not a gun-wielding thug but a sinister man with cats.

These were two extraordinary introductions to an extraordinary six hour experience. You couldn’t help thinking that the best way to appreciate this new work – Jane talked about it as a novel – is to see it without a break (well, apart from the two intervals) rather than an hour a week when it turns up next month on UKTV.

And what a work. Some of its themes include parenting, adoption, surrogacy, prostitution, sexism, sex, relationships, stress, loss … all linked in a crime story which starts and finishes on Bondi Beach. With a marvellous collection of imperfect characters, and a cast including Nicole Kidman and Campion’s daughter Alice Englert. And in almost every scene: Elizabeth Moss who plays the conflicted detective at the centre of the plot.

Not a conventional crime story in any way. But all reflecting the unique imaginations of Jane Campion and Gerard Lee.