Producer. Nationality: American. Born: New York, 1962. Education: Attended Brown University. Career: Worked odd film jobs to learn the trade while also working as a freelance copy editor; co-founded Apparatus Productions, 1987, to produce expiremental work; co-founder, with Pamela Koffler, of production company Killer Films, 1996. Awards: Frameline Award for Outstanding Achievement in Lesbian and Gay Media, 1994; Muse Award for Outstanding Vision and Achievement, New York Women in Film and Television, 1996; Producer Award, Gotham Awards, 1999. Address: Killer Films, 380 Lafayette Street, Suite 302, New York, NY 10003, U.S.A.
Films as Producer:
He Was Once (Hestand)
Oreos with Attitude (Carty)
Poison (Haynes) (+ first asst d)
Dottie Gets Spanked (Haynes—for TV)
Postcards from America (McLean); Go Fish (Troche) (exec)
Stonewall (Finch); Kids (Clark) (co-pr); Safe (Haynes)
Plain Pleasures (Kalin); I Shot Andy Warhol (Harron)
Office Killer (Sherman); Kiss Me Guido (Vitale)
I'm Losing You (Wagner); Velvet Goldmine (Haynes); Happiness (Solondz)
Wild Flowers (Painter) (exec); Boys Don't Cry (Peirce)
The Fluffer (Glatzer and Westmoreland) (exec); Women in Film (Wagner); Crime and Punishment in Suburbia (Schmidt)
Magic Sticks (Keglevic) (third asst d); My Demon Lover (Loventhal) (prod co-ord)
The Laserman (Wang) (second unit asst d)
By VACHON: book—
With David Edelstein, Shooting to Kill: How an Independent Producer Blasts through the Barriers to Make Movies that Matter, New York, 1998.
On VACHON: articles—
Huisman, Mark J., "Screen Gem," in The Advocate (New York), no. 724–5, 21 January 1997.
Grey, Ian, "Urban Independent," in Sex, Stupidity, and Greed: Inside the American Movie Industry, New York, 1997.
Premiere (Boulder), October 1998.
Wallace, Amy, "Where Others Fear to Tread, She Steps In," in Los Angeles Times, 28 January 2000.
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Independent producer Christine Vachon has been described as fearless, relentless, radical, and determined. Director Todd Haynes said of the woman who raised the bar in independent filmmaking, "She is the kind of producer who will lay down in front of a train" to get a film made. She is a risk-taker who has bucked the establishment by bringing subjects to the screen that were once considered untouchable. Dubbed the "Godmother of Independent Films," Vachon makes intelligent art pictures that have become commercially as well as critically successful.
Vachon began making movies in 1987 when she formed a production company with fellow Brown University alumni Todd Haynes. As Vachon later noted, "Our mandate was to make movies by young filmmakers just starting out." Their first effort was Haynes' Super-star: The Karen Carpenter Story, starring a Barbie Doll as the anorexic Karen. The Sundance Film Festival fan favorite was blocked from release when the Carpenter family filed suit against the project. Even unreleased, the film became a cult hit and brought Haynes and Vachon the clout to finance their next project, Poison. Inspired by the writings of Jean Genet, Poison skillfully interweaves three stories to create what Leonard Maltin called a "jarring, disturbing film about what it means to be different, to be alienated from the mainstream." A difficult film, Poison found its audience in a gay community so unrecognized and underserved by mainstream filmmakers that it flocked to see the film because it contained some gay content.
Vachon next produced Swoon (1992), Tom Kalin's surrealistic vision of the Leopold-Loeb murders. Unlike previous film interpretations of the famous 1920s thrill killing of a young Chicago boy, Swoon did not shy away from the homosexuality of the two murderers. Shot in black and white, with what Roger Ebert called "the look of modern men's fashion photography," Swoon was immediately touted as the epitome of the new queer cinema, even as it was roundly criticized for depicting homosexuals as murderers. Vachon, however, was quick to note that, for her, filmmaking was about telling stories, not presenting a unified front of gay identity. And in her other gaythemed films, Vachon has presented gay life from a wide range of angles and experiences.
In Rose Troche's Go Fish (1994), Vachon brought a witty and innovative lesbian love story to the screen—this one played by a largely non-professional cast. And Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine used a Citizen Kane flashback approach to chronicle London's glam rock era, a time in which sexual experimentation with androgyny and bisexuality stemmed from a spirit of rebellion, optimism, and hero worship.
Though she was dubbed "the Queen of Queer Cinema," Vachon detested the appellation and certainly never limited herself to producing gay-themed films. Larry Clark's Kids (1995) took on the uncomfortable subject of HIV-infected teenagers in a world of streetwise kids whose hellish lives revolve around sexual conquest and drugs. That same year Vachon reteamed with Todd Haynes to make Safe, a film about a woman who is allergic to her environment. As Roger Ebert noted, "The movie starts out dealing with one problem (environmental poisoning) and ends up attacking another (a blissed-out cult that charges big dollars from suffering people, who pay to hear the leader blame them for their troubles)." But it moves to another level when it suggests that, in fact, Moore's character may be responsible for much of her own illness. In a directorial style characterized by Ebert as "sneaky and insidious," Haynes never blames anyone, leaving the audience to work through its own discomfort.
The film that catapulted Vachon to popular acclaim was the gaythemed Boys Don't Cry, director Kimberly Pierce's docudrama about the Brandon Teena story. A film lauded by many critics as one of the best of the year, Boys Don't Cry avoided cliché by letting superb actors, led by Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Hilary Swank and Academy Award nominee Chloe Sevigny, and pure, forceful filmmaking tell a powerful and distressing true story of sexual identity and confusion in Middle America.
Although the groundbreaking film brought Vachon widespread recognition and praise, she has made it clear that she has no intention of abandoning her independent filmmaking ethos. But one can only look forward to the inevitable merging of the mainstream money and attention bound to come Vachon's way with her relentless belief in the puissant voice and vision of the independent filmmaker.