Dame Elizabeth Jane Campion is a New Zealand director, screenwriter, and producer. She became the second woman ever nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director and the first female filmmaker to receive the Palme d'Or; both of these achievements came for The Piano (1993). She also won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the same film. At the 78th Venice International Film Festival, she won the Silver Lion award for directing The Power of the Dog (2021). Campion is also known for directing the films An Angel at My Table (1990), Holy Smoke! (1998), and Bright Star (2009).
Campion was born in Wellington, New Zealand, the second daughter of Edith Campion (née Beverley Georgette Hannah), an actress, writer, and heiress; and Richard M. Campion, a teacher, and theatre and opera director. Her maternal great-grandfather was Robert Hannah, a well-known shoe manufacturer for whom Antrim House was built. Her father came from a family that belonged to the fundamentalist Christian Exclusive Brethren sect. Along with her sister Anna, a year and a half her senior, and brother, Michael, seven years her junior, Campion grew up in the world of New Zealand theatre. Their parents founded the New Zealand Players. Campion initially rejected the idea of a career in the dramatic arts, and graduated instead with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Victoria University of Wellington in 1975.
In 1976, she enrolled in the Chelsea Art School in London, and traveled throughout Europe. She earned a graduate diploma in visual arts (painting) from the Sydney College of the Arts at the University of Sydney in 1981. Campion's later film work was shaped in part by her art school education; she has, even in her mature career, cited painter Frida Kahlo and sculptor Joseph Beuys as influences.
Campion's dissatisfaction with the limitations of painting led her to filmmaking and the creation of her first short, Tissues, in 1980. In 1981, she began studying at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, where she made several more short films and graduated in 1984.
Campion's first short film, Peel (1982), won the Short Film Palme d'Or at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival, and other awards followed for the shorts Passionless Moments (1983), A Girl's Own Story (1984), and After Hours (1984). After leaving the Australian Film and Television School, she directed an episode for ABC's light entertainment series Dancing Daze (1986), which led to her first TV film, Two Friends (1986), produced by Jan Chapman.
Her feature debut, Sweetie (1989), won international awards. Further recognition came with An Angel at My Table (1990), a biopic about the life of New Zealand writer Janet Frame, from a screenplay written by Laura Jones. Widespread recognition followed with The Piano (1993), which won the Palme d'Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, Best Director from the Australian Film Institute, and an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1994. At the 66th Academy Awards, Campion was the second woman ever to be nominated for Best Director.
Campion's subsequent work has tended to polarize opinion. The Portrait of a Lady (1996), based on the Henry James novel, featured Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, Barbara Hershey and Martin Donovan. Holy Smoke! (1999) saw Campion teamed with Harvey Keitel for a second time (the first being The Piano), this time with Kate Winslet as the female lead. In the Cut (2003), an erotic thriller based on Susanna Moore's bestseller, provided Meg Ryan an opportunity to depart from her more familiar onscreen persona. Her 2009 film Bright Star, a biographical drama about poet John Keats (played by Ben Whishaw) and his lover Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), was shown at the Cannes Film Festival. In an interview with Jan Lisa Huttner, Campion discussed how she focused on Fanny's side of the story, pointing out that only two of the film's scenes did not feature her.
Campion created, wrote, and directed the TV mini-series Top of the Lake, which received near universal acclaim, won numerous awards—including, for its lead actress Elisabeth Moss, a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film and a Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Movie/Miniseries—and was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie. Campion was also nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special.
She was the head of the jury for the Cinéfondation and Short Film sections at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and the head of the jury for the main competition section of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.
When Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan received the Prix du Jury for his film Mommy, he said that Campion's The Piano "...made me want to write roles for women—beautiful women with soul, will and strength, not victims or objects." Campion responded by rising from her seat to give him a hug.
In 2014, it was announced that Campion was nearing a deal to direct an adaptation of Rachel Kushner's novel The Flamethrowers.
In 2015, Campion confirmed that she would co-direct and co-write a second season of Top of the Lake with the story moved to Sydney and Harbour City, Hong Kong, and with Elisabeth Moss reprising her role as Robin Griffin. The sequel series titled Top of the Lake: China Girl was released in 2017. Shot and set in Sydney, Top of the Lake: China Girl features Alice Englert, Campion's daughter, in a lead role as Robin's biological daughter. The series also features Ewen Leslie, David Dencik and Nicole Kidman.
In 2019, Campion's first film in a decade was announced, an adaptation of Thomas Savage's novel The Power of the Dog. The film was written an directed by her and was released in 2021. It premiered at the 78th Venice International Film Festival where Campion was awarded the Silver Lion for Best Direction. The film was critically acclaimed internationally, winning numerous awards and nominations, both for the direction, screenplay and performance of the cast of actors. Campion earned three nominations in the respective categories for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture at the Golden Globe Awards, AACTA International Awards, Critics' Choice Movie Awards and Satellite Awards.
In 1992, she married Colin David Englert, an Australian who worked as a second unit director on The Piano. Their first child, Jasper, was born in 1993 but lived for only 12 days. Their second child, Alice Englert, was born in 1994; she is an actress. The couple divorced in 2001.