NEW YORK - When Oscar-winning filmmaker Jane Campion signed up to adapt Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel The Power of the Dog, she deliberately sought out a female cinematographer to work alongside. Specifically Ari Wegner, a name you’re going to be hearing a lot more often from now on.

It may be 2022, but the combination of both a female director and a female director of photography is still a rare occurrence in Hollywood.

The pair combined to create an unsettling and menacing western which tackles toxic masculinity and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as complicated, malevolent cowboy Phil, who forms an unlikely friendship with a younger man, Pete (Kodi Smit-McPhee). The film is leading the pack at this year’s Academy Awards with 12 nominations, including best picture, best director and best cinematography - Wegner could be the first woman to win the latter. For many, that female recognition is cause for celebration after the so-called “male gaze” has dominated Hollywood for so long. But is there such thing as “the female gaze” and if so, what does that bring to a traditionally male genre like a western? Campion, who is now the first woman to be nominated for two best director Oscars, isn’t sure.

“It’s so hard to know how much to believe in the female gaze or the male gaze,” she tells the BBC. “I think, to me, it’s really the artist’s gaze, bringing your sensitivity to the story. But I really wanted to have a woman cinematographer on this film, because there’s so many other men and I really like to support women.”

Wegner, who previously worked with Campion on a commercial, told the BBC’s culture editor Katie Razzall: “There probably is a gender element to it, but it’s also just what interests you, what your upbringing is, what you notice. “And I think maybe Jane and I are similar in that way, really fascinated by subtle kinds of energy between people and what’s not being said.” Campion says it’s thanks to the film’s “feminist” producer Roger Frappier that she got on board with the project in the first place after a meeting in Cannes. “It’s very lucky that he really trusted me with this story, which you would think is a book for the kind of big-guy type of person that would handle ranch material even though I do ride horses, and my parents did have cattle on the farm (Campion grew up in New Zealand). “I was grateful to him for believing in me. And I was grateful to Savage’s book, which is kind of subversive... when you think about most western genre movies, they’re really a kind of celebration of masculinity in one way or another... and often a romanticised version of what a man is. “In Savage’s hands, he ripped through it really, and showed us a very true and different version.”