‘The Power of the Dog’ cinematographer Ari Wegner on working with Jane Campion on gorgeous Western landscape [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Oscar-winning filmmaker Jane Campion is very selective when it comes to her projects. In fact, Campion’s new Netflix film, “The Power of the Dog,” is her first feature in 12 years. So what is the director’s process like on set?

“One of the things I love about Jane is she really makes her films in the same way she lives: open-hearted, curious, vulnerable, honest and collaborative family vibe,” cinematographer Ari Wegner tells Gold Derby during our “Meet the Experts” cinematographers panel. “When you’re making a film you have to decide how you want it to look but also how you want to make it: how you want the shoot day to feel, what works for a director, what do they need to feel they’re comfortable and in a place where they can be creative and have freedom. Jane’s amazing at being able to articulate what she needs and wants.”

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Based on the book by Thomas Savage, “The Power of the Dog” is already one of 2021’s most acclaimed films — and it doesn’t even arrive in theaters until later in November before its Netflix debut on December 1. Campion won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival for Best Director and “The Power of the Dog” sits atop the Gold Derby odds in the Best Picture race, with Campion in the pole position for Best Director. The film is set in 1920s Montana and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank, a rough-and-tumble rancher whose anger and bitterness have hardened him over the years and eventually sets up a confrontation with his brother’s new wife (Kirsten Dunst) and her teenage son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Those personal conflicts play out against the backdrop of a gorgeous Western landscape (with New Zealand filling in for Montana).

“For me, the film was always about big and small,” Wegner says of her approach. “It’s this vast place but what’s of interest is these tiny nuances. What’s Jane’s real skill, when you think about all the iconic Jane Campion scenes you love, it’s just two people and the energy between them and the subtly and nuance and ambiguity. We knew that was going to be a big thing. It could be a look, someone touching another body that’s electric. We made sure we captured the landscape with these wide shots, but macro shots also became a real thing to us — the power of cutting to something very tight.”

As Wegner points out, the themes of “The Power of the Dog” are about repressed feelings and how none of the characters have the emotional acuity and language to discuss what’s actually taking place inside their minds. “How do you shoot a scene where we think of it as a dialogue scene but what if we shoot that as a love scene?” she says. “To see someone rolling a cigarette or tying a rope. These very sensual shots, to imbue some of that sensuality into an action which otherwise wouldn’t have that emotional electricity to it.”

“The Power of the Dog” comes to Netflix on December 1.

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