2 Friends was produced by the ABC as a straight-to-air TV drama. The producer was Jan Chapman and the writer was Helen Garner. In August 2002 Jan Chapman gave the annual Longford Lyell Lecture, organised by ScreenSound Australia, at the Chauvel Cinema, Paddington (NSW, Australia) and among her remarks was this section devoted to encountering Jane Campion.
Jane’s unusual aesthetic and amusement in revealing details of people’s behaviour not generally observed did not immediately appeal to everyone and she has often recalled that at film school in Australia she was advised that some of her short films were not worth finishing. She also recalls that of those that did enjoy her work none took up the opportunity which I did to give her a job – but I applaud the fact that the ABC drama department had the budget and the policy to enable tele-features like Helen Garner’s Two Friends to be made at the time. Jane was a rebellious and independent spirit for a bureaucratic organisation like the ABC and not easily intimidated by male camera operators who warned her that she should be careful “not to cross the line”.
“When the film was completed a scout for the Cannes Film Festival, Pierre Rissient, whose visit was assisted by the Australian Film Commission, encouraged the selection of Jane’s three short films, Peel (1982), Passionless Moments (1983), and A Girl’s Own Story (1984) along with Two Friends, into the Un Certain Regard section at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival.
2 Friends screened at the Melbourne Cinémathèque in September 2017 and in the program notes for the screening, published in Senses of Cinema, Gwendolyn Audrey Foster opens with this paragraph:
“Fearless, ruthlessly economical and deeply felt, 2 Friends (1986), Jane Campion’s first feature – actually made for Australian television, and clocking in at a spare 79 minutes – is a modest yet accomplished film, and a stunning debut. Working from a screenplay by Helen Garner, Campion traces in reverse the lives of two young Australian schoolgirls, Kelly (Kris Bidenko) and Louise (Emma Coles) from the collapse of their friendship back to its promising beginning, when all things seemed possible, and the world was bright and new. Of course, this told-in-reverse format has been used in a number of other films, most notably Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000), but Campion’s tale is told from a female perspective and uses this unusual narrative strategy to tap into the experience of female friendships, and, in particular, the difficulties young bright women have navigating a world than is not designed for their success.”
The film has only slowly developed a reputation as one of the key moments in Campion’s career. A decade later when it was finally screened in a limited theatrical season in New York, Stephen Holden in the New York Times was most enthusiastic:
“As we recall our youths, many of us can remember moments when a well-intentioned parental “no” sealed off avenues of opportunity in ways that changed our lives far more than we could have realized at the time. “Two Friends,” Jane Campion’s sad, minutely observed story of a dissolving friendship between two 15-year-old girls, imagines such a turning point with an astonishing clarity and feel for the texture of drab middle-class life on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia.
“….it has many of her (Campion’s) stylistic hallmarks, not the least of which is an utter lack of sentimentality.
“Portraying adolescence and its discontents, the film takes a detached, almost clinical view of its two central characters who both come from broken homes. Scenes of family life with its petty squabbles, shopping expeditions, holiday celebrations and time spent watching television and talking on the telephone are so precisely observed they have the quality of cinéma verité.”
Shot on 16mm, the ABC is supplying Cinema Reborn with a specially made digital copy of the film.
Directed by Jane Campion; written by Helen Garner; director of photography, Julian Penney; edited by Bill Russo; music by Martin Armiger; produced by Jan Chapman; WITH: Emma Coles (Louise), Kris Bidenko (Kelly), Kris McQuade (Janet), Stephen Leeder (Jim) and Debra May (Chris).