Phil Jones (associate producer, 1st AD) and writer, director and producer Jane Campion on the set of 'The Power of the Dog' in New Zealand. (Photo: Kirsty Griffin/Netflix)

Jane Campion has won the Silver Lion Award for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival for The Power of the Dog.

The auteur’s first feature in 12 years, based on the 1967 novel by Thomas Savage, premiered at the festival to a four-minute standing ovation.

An Australian-New Zealand co-production, it has been hailed by critics, and is already generating Oscar buzz.

Set in the 1920s, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons play brothers Phil and George Burbank, who own the biggest ranch in the Montana valley.

When George secretly marries local widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst), a shocked and angry Phil wages a relentless war to destroy her, using her effeminate son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as a pawn.

Campion is the only the second woman to have ever won Venice’s director prize since it was introduced in 1990 and given annually since 1998; the first being Shirin Neshat in 2009 for Women Without Men.

In her acceptance speech, she paid tribute to her actors, particularly Cumberbatch, who she said went “round the world and back again to find this character, to strip himself bare, and play Phil Burbank, whose suppression made him cruel and fragile, also with yearning.”

“I thank Venice festival. It’s amazing that you’ve managed to make this happen for us. It’s so special for us filmmakers to be here live with audiences and experience what we dream about,” she said.

The Power of the Dog is produced by See-Saw Films, Brightstar, BBC Films, Big Shell Films and Max Films, and is a Netflix Original. Emile Sherman and Iain Canning produced with Roger Frappier, Campion and Tanya Seghatchian. In Australia and New Zealand, it will receive a theatrical release via Transmission Films.

It is not Campion’s first Venice award; she won the Grand Jury Prize in 1990 with An Angel at My Table. A Cannes regular, she was also the first woman to win the Palme d’Or in 1993 with the The Piano, a film that would also see her become the second woman to ever be nominated for the Best Director Oscar.

The Venice jury, headed by Bong Joon-ho, presented its biggest prize, the Golden Lion, to French-Lebanese director Audrey Diwan’s 1960s-set abortion drama L’Evénement (Happening). It is the first time ever the award has gone to a female-helmed film two years in a row; last year’s winner was Nomadland, from Chloé Zhao – also on the 2021 jury. That film would go on to win three Oscars, including Best Picture.

The Power of the Dog was one of several titles from Netflix on the Lido this year, the others being Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God, which won the Grand Jury Prize, and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter, which won best screenplay.

In her acceptance speech, Gyllenhaal paid tribute to Campion, noting The Piano‘s influence on her.

COMPETITION WINNERS

Golden Lion for Best Film: Happening, Audrey Diwan

Grand Jury Prize: The Hand of God, Paolo Sorrentino

Best Director: The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion

Best Actress: Parallel Mothers, Penélope Cruz

Best Actor: On the Job: The Missing 8, John Arcilla

Best Screenplay: The Lost Daughter, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Special Jury Prize: Il Buco, Michelangelo Frammartino

Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor: The Hand of God, Filippo Scotti

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