Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Kenneth Branaugh, Jane Campion honored at film festival

Courtesy of Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Courtesy of Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Eva Moschitto, Editor, Arts and Entertainment

Three of the five directors honored this year by The Santa Barbara International Film Festival hailed from outside the United States: Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi for “Drive My Car,” Irish director Kenneth Branaugh for “Belfast,” and New Zealand director Jane Campion for “The Power of the Dog.” While the films varied thematically — containing everything from Chekhov plays to the Wild West — each was informed by the directors’ unique identities and inspirations.

Hamaguchi’s three-hour film “Drive My Car” is based on Haruki Murakami’s forty-page short story of the same name. However, even after exploring the story at length, Hamaguchi said that Murakami, who neglected to comment on the film, remains “a mystery, even now.” Intrigue is a central theme for Hamaguchi, who also said that mystery and suspense keep audiences engaged for the full three hours.

Kenneth Branagh used film to explore the violence wrought on Belfast by “The Troubles” — the religious/political conflict that unfolded in Ireland from the 1960s to 1990s.

While the Summer of Love was happening in San Francisco and civil rights movements were emerging across the United States, Branaugh explained, Belfast was in chaos. Branaugh recalled “the bees that weren’t the bees” — a swarm of bombings that he, then a child, perceived to be the buzzing of bees. In one afternoon, his neighborhood transformed “from a playground … into a fortress.” Barricades were erected on his street, and the ground beneath Branaugh’s feet literally fell away, he remembered. The next morning, Branaugh stepped outside to see a layer of pavement gone.

He remembers that day as the last of his childhood.

However, Branaugh wanted the film to be more than something “that should really just be for me and my therapist.” Instead of a “slavish recreation of what [he had] been through,” Branaugh wanted the film to be a new interpretation of the same event, a portrait of one family living on one street in Belfast.

While Branaugh took inspiration from personal experience, Campion’s approach was nearly the opposite. “The Power of the Dog” tells the story of a cruel American rancher — a story outside the norm for women and non-American directors. However, Campion remained undaunted. Men “write about women all the time,” she explained. Campion described domineering protagonist Phil Burbank — played by Benedict Cumberbatch — as “a b*tch of a guy, really.” 

Still, “I felt emboldened to tell whatever story I fell in love with,” Campion said. 

While “The Power of the Dog” was Campion’s first feature film after twelve years of short film and TV writing, her love for movies drove her to challenge herself again: “I did begin to miss, actually, that gorgeous two hours,” Campion said. 

Campion was forced to practice determination as a woman filmmaker in a male-dominated industry. “When I first started making films, I expected an enormous amount of aggression from male [peers],” Campion said. “Fortunately for me,” she added, “I don’t listen to that. I’m loyal to my story. [I’m used to] being a little bit more a b*tch.”

Despite progress in the industry, being a woman director remains difficult. “You’re always having films reviewed by men,” Campion explained. At times, women directors wonder if their films are honored out of charity toward women or attempts to appear more inclusive rather than actual appreciation for the film’s merits. 

Despite these hurdles, Campion shines as a directorial tour-de-force, becoming the first woman to be nominated twice for the Academy Award for Best Director. 

Together, Campion, Branaugh and Hamaguchi shared their unique approaches to filmmaking with attendees of the March 3 awards, sharing wisdom and inspiration for aspiring filmmakers and movie-lovers alike. 

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