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Melissa Silverstein

Melissa Silverstein

Posted: November 9, 2009 01:05 PM

Jan Chapman - The Woman Behind So Many Great Films

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One of my longtime obsessions has been finding Australian films, especially those directed by women.  It began almost 20 years ago when I first saw My Brilliant Career and I was blown away.  Thinking back now, seeing that movie was another one of my seminal movie moments and that began a deep love for all things Gillian Armstrong and Judy Davis.

One thing you will discover if you dig a little deeper on some of the most interesting flicks to have come out of Australia in the last 20 years is the recurrence of one name in particular producer, Jan Chapman.

This woman has produced some great films (lots by women directors) including The Last Days of Chez Nous, The Piano, Lantana, Sommersault and the current Jane Campion film Bright Star.

I had the privilege to speak with Jan recently and immediately I was struck (through the phone) with that same sense of calmness that I got from Jane Campion, her long time collaborator.  (I guess there is something in the water in Australia.)  As a producer Jan does everything from getting financing to budgeting (which she says she find to be very creative), to helping with casting, to being a sounding board and support structure for her directors.

I always find descriptions of what producers do to be very interesting.  It's one of those jobs that at times can be very, very thankless where you seem to do everything and not get any of the credit.  Also, most producers are anonymous.  You really don't know who they are.  They get none of the credit for success and lots of the blame for failure.  You really need to have a certain personality to do it -- and be successful-- because there is no job description, and I bet the job changes with each director on every film.

One thing that Chapman stressed was collaboration.  I feel that people don't need to be pitted against each other and compete with each other and the only way that we will get more women at all levels of the business is for us to realize that the more women the better.  Pitting women against each other is done to hold the numbers down.   When asked about these persistent discussions about how women compete with each other she said "that hasn't been my experience" and cited the women directors like Mira Nair, Julie Taymor and Sophia Copolla who came to the premiere of Bright Star to support Jane Campion and her work.

I also talked to Jan about the bugaboo about why we still have so few female directors and like most other people I posed the question to, she had no good answer (because there isn't one.) To illustrate the issue even further she told the story of attending the 60th anniversary of Cannes with Jane Campion who won the Palme D'Or for The Piano in 1993 (which Chapman produced). All the Palme D'Or winners were posing for a picture and Jan said of the moment:

When I saw only one woman on the stage full of Palme D'Or winners at the 60th anniversary of Cannes I felt shocked at this physical representation of how few women proportionately are directors let alone award winners even now. It seemed that we hadn't really progressed very far at all.

I asked about her biggest disappointment and she paused and said that it was her inability to raise the funding for a film called The Riders which was to be directed by Lantana director Ray Lawrence.  The film never got made.  "We were so close to financing.  I wake up some nights with the words of that script in my head."

Chapman's latest producing effort, Bright Star is still playing across the US and recently opened in England.  This film is in all the awards conversations and if you haven't seen it and it is playing in your neighborhood you need to go.  First, because it is great.  Second, because you are supporting women and their visions.  Third, we need to keep momentum for the film going through the awards conversations.  It's vital that the film still be playing when all the year end lists and awards start to happen.

I look forward to seeing many more of Chapman's productions in the future.

 

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