Film Reviews

REVIEW: From the Bottom of the Lake

Hot Docs 2014

From the Bottom of the Lake
Australia, 52 min.
Directed by Clare Young
Programme: Next (North American Premiere)

Oscar winner Jane Campion (The Piano) is one of several high-profile filmmakers who have recently made a splash in television. Campion tested TV waters with the 2013 miniseries Top of the Lake and the result was an acclaimed drama that elevated the medium. How a filmmaker jumps from the free form of cinema to the comparatively more controlled environment of television is an artful process investigated in the film.

One need not be a fan of Top of the Lake to enjoy From the Bottom of the Lake, but it probably helps. This documentary follows Campion from the bottom upwards as she moves Top of the Lake through pre-production to its landmark premiere at Sundance. Director Clare Young, who worked as Campion’s assistant on Top of the Lake, takes a playful approach to show how Campion adapts her maverick flair for filmmaking to the small screen.

Making a work of art is simply a process, as Young’s interactions with Campion and Top of the Lake co-creator Gerard Lee show the artists riffing in a quaint lakeside cottage in Devon. The pair tosses about “paltry notes” and debates the effectiveness of clichés versus realism while Young’s camera captures the creative process in full force. The same element of vulnerability Campion demands from her actors appears in her own insecurity with storyboarding and planning the technical specs of filmmaking. (She recalls her ignorance of various camera lenses.) Campion, despite her success, recalls the early days when her male co-workers doubted her ability to execute a shot.

The excerpts of Top of the Lake prove Campion skeptics wrong. Ditto the extensive rehearsal footage in which Campion pushes her actors to go deep within themselves to explore their characters. This was wonderful TV work. From the Bottom of the Lake finds an open spirit in Campion’s work that shows how good artistry translates to any medium.

Visit POV’s Hot Docs Hub for more reviews and features on the 2014 festival.