State of Cinema Address: Christine Vachon
Sunday, April 24, 9:00 pm
Sundance Kabuki Cinemas
1881 Post Street (at Fillmore)
Each year, the Film Society invites an industry leader to ruminate on the intersecting worlds of contemporary cinema, culture and society. This year, indie film maverick Christine Vachon discusses her remarkable career as a producer of often controversial films such as Kids (Larry Clark, 1995), I Shot Andy Warhol (Mary Harron, 1996), Happiness (Todd Solondz, 1998), Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Peirce, 1999), Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001) and Cairo Time (Ruba Nadda, SFIFF 2010), as well as all of Todd Haynes’s films including Poison (1991), Safe (1995), I’m Not There (2007) and the HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce (2011). One of indie film’s most formidable and well-respected figures, Vachon’s take on the State of Cinema promises to enlighten and provoke.
The Killer Producer
by Jason Berger
In 1973, while growing up in New York City, ten-year-old Christine Vachon wandered into an Upper West Side movie theater, hoping to catch a horror film. With no knowledge of the films except for their titles, she picked one that sounded like the best bet to deliver the scares she was looking for. That film turned out to be Ingmar Bergman’s classic Cries and Whispers.
“It certainly was a horror film,” said Vachon in an interview with NPR, “but not in the way that I had thought. It was a stunning experience. I walked out of there like ‘I didn’t know film could do that.’”
In her 25 years as a producer, as cofounder of Killer Films, and as the author of two books on film production, Vachon has greatly expanded the parameters and possibilities of independent film. She has shepherded unique characters and distinct artistic visions to the screen, helping to move them beyond the New York art houses and into nationwide multiplexes. With films such as Boys Don’t Cry and Kids, she has given voice to the type of gritty, emotionally extreme stories previously relegated to the fringes, placing them front and center in our artistic and cultural discussions. And, perhaps most radically, Vachon has never lost sight of what drew her as a ten-year-old to that theater in the first place, before she unknowingly walked into another cinematic world: Her films, no matter how high their artistic aspirations, still manage to entertain.
“[When I started] in New York there were really two types of films being made,” Vachon recalled in an interview with Steven Priggé. “You were either making movies that were being shown at the Collection of Living Cinema, which were essentially like watching paint dry, or you were making Hollywood movies.”
Vachon’s savvy combination of art and entertainment has brought us such characters as the titular transvestite turned-rock star in Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Dylan Baker’s amiable pedophile-next-door in Happiness. And through her longtime creative partnership with acclaimed filmmaker Todd Haynes, Vachon has produced some of the era’s most distinctive films, such as the glam-rock epic Velvet Goldmine, the Bob Dylan mosaic I’m Not There and the Douglas Sirk–inspired Far from Heaven, all of which received Academy Award nominations.
In this year’s State of Cinema address, Vachon will discus the ways in which the independent film industry has changed and how it must adapt in this era of new forms of media and film presentation in order to stay relevant—how the types of films she loves to make can continue to open our eyes, shift our perspective and, yes, even entertain us.
Jason Berger is a journalist and editor based in San Francisco.
2010 Walter Murch
2009 Mary Ellen Mark
2008 Kevin Kelly
2007 Peter Sellars
2006 Tilda Swinton
2005 Brad Bird
2004 B. Ruby Rich
2003 Michael Ciment