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The Conversation: Producer Christine Vachon

Not only a trailblazer but continual champion of queer film, producer Christine Vachon continues to be one of the most prolific risk takers in American cinema. The course of LGBT auteur cinema in the US indie scene was hewn by many but made a tenable force by prominent members of the New Queer Cinema movement of the 1990s, of which Vachon played an integral role. A movement morphing out of the programming and success of the 1991 Sundance Film Festival, perhaps the most prominent name to rise from this platform was director Todd Haynes, who won the Grand Jury Prize at the festival for his debut, Poison, produced by Vachon. Since then, she has produced all of Haynes’ features, including his mini-series remake of Mildred Pierce, and has remained a cornerstone for LGBT filmmakers within a market whose parameters have become continually restrictive.

Besides Haynes, Vachon has been responsible for fostering and assisting too many talented auteurs to rightly justify her importance in one brief overview, but thanks to her, she’s made possible some unforgettable works by Rose Troche (Go Fish; The Safety of Objects), Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry), Todd Solondz (Happiness; Storytelling; Weiner Dog), Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol; The Notorious Bettie Page), Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo), John Waters (A Dirty Shame), and many more.

Vachon established Killer Films in 1996 with producer Pamela Koffler, which merged with Glass Elevator Media in 2014 to become Killer Content. Many of Vachon’s ventures are risky, offbeat endeavors, although the critical success of 2014’s Still Alice from Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer (which scored Julianne Moore a Best Actress Academy Award) was also a success at the box office (and her highest grossing production to date).

2017 has already proved to be a formidable year for Vachon, who was at Sundance with three films, including an excellent new title from Andrew Dosunmu (Where is Kyra?), Miguel Arteta (Beatriz at Dinner), and the well-received Lemon from Janicza Bravo. At Cannes, we expect to see Vachon on the Croisette with the latest film from Todd Haynes, Wonderstruck, considering they last premiered in the main competition with 2015’s Carol (which took home a Best Actress prize for Rooney Mara and was Hayne’s second time in comp at Cannes, following 1998’s Velvet Goldmine).

And beyond the possibility of the Croisette (which will be confirmed only four days from now on April 13th), Vachon has a prolific slate of projects to look forward to in late 2017 and 2018, including the sophomore feature from Brady Corbet (Vox Lux), and new films from Paul Schrader (First Reformed), James Franco (Zola), Todd Solondz (Love Child), Wash Westmoreland (Colette), as well as developing narrative projects about Vivian Maier and Kitty Genovese.

Here’s a look at five (or so) of our favorite titles from her impressive resume:

5. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) – Dir. John Cameron Mitchell
In 2001, John Cameron Mitchell made his directorial debut adapting his famed 1998 rock musical stage play Hedwig and the Angry Inch (adapted first from his own book), in which Mitchell also starred. The saga of an East German transgendered woman suffering a botched sex reassignment surgery and subsequent success as a rock stars has since become a queer stage staple, but made immortal thanks to Mitchell’s electric cinematic performance.

4. Magic Magic (2013) – Dir. Sebastian Silva
The second Sebastian Silva film from 2013 which premiered alongside Crystal Fairy at the Sundance Film Festival, was the psychological horror film Magic Magic, which starred Juno Temple in one of her best performances to date as a paranoid hysteric having a dangerous meltdown in the grand tradition of Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion or Susannah York in Images (not to mention a great comic supporting turn from Michael Cera). Lensed by Christopher Doyle, the title was purchased by Sony, who completely maligned the film’s distribution.

3. Where is Kyra? (2017) – Dir. Andrew Dosunmu
Premiering out of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Andrew Dosunmu’s third film Where is Kyra? features Michelle Pfeiffer in this contemporary slice of urban alienation about a woman impersonating her dead mother in order to cash her social security checks while struggling to overcome significant personal issues. Troubling, morose, and taking a page from the Euro art-house vibe of the 1970s (not to mention it’s terrifically lensed by Bradford Young, responsible for the look of Dosunmu’s previous features Restless City and Mother of George), this superbly textured and moody melodrama is not be missed, even if destined solely for the appreciation of indie art-house audiences.

2. Savage Grace (2007) – Dir. Tom Kalin
In 2014, Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne won Best Actor and Actress Academy Awards (for Still Alice and The Theory of Everything, respectively). But nearly a decade prior, they starred as an incestuous mother and son in Tom Kalin’s juicy Savage Grace, which follows the troubled saga of socialite and heiress Barbara Daly Baekeland who was murdered by her son. Moore gives one of the best performances of her career in this psycho shocker, although the subject matter forced this one to ignore the celebratory accolades of polite society. We’re still waiting for Kalin, who previously directed the Leopold and Loeb film Swoon (1992), also produced by Vachon, to embark on a new venture.

1. Poison (1991); Safe (1995); Far From Heaven (2001) – Dir. Todd Haynes
And here’s three of Todd Haynes’ best works at the top of Vachon’s heap, beginning with Poison, the title which started it all, a triptych of three narratives all inspired by Jean Genet, an inventive mish-mash of genre and tone, described as a science fiction horror drama. Building on elements of subverted horror would assist with Haynes breakout, Safe, an environmental illness saga which first united him with Julianne Moore. The actress would also superbly headline his recapitulated pastiche of Douglas Sirk’s soapy All That Heaven Allows for 2001’s Far From Heaven (which landed Moore a Best Actress nod).

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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