Vachon honoured for US indie film work

Vachon with the Raimondo Rezzonico award Keystone

Christine Vachon, a top United States independent film producer, on Thursday evening received recognition for her work at the Locarno film festival.

This content was published on August 15, 2008 minutes

Vachon, whose works include the Oscar-winning Boys Don't Cry, spoke to swissinfo ahead of the ceremony at which she was awarded the Raimondo Rezzonico Prize for major art house producers.

Her two-decade career also includes Far from Heaven and most recently I'm Not There, about Bob Dylan.

Locarno's artistic director Frédéric Maire has called her "fearless in the face of risk and controversy". Many of her films have taboo subject, such as Kids, whose sexual and drugs content caused an outcry. Boys Don't Cry featured transsexual teen Brandon Teena who was murdered.

She is also known for encouraging innovative filmmakers, such as Todd Haynes. Vachon runs the production company Killer Films from New York.

swissinfo: Congratulations on your award, how important is it to receive such an accolade?

Christine Vachon: Producers don't get that much recognition, so it's pretty amazing that Locarno actually has an award set aside for great producers. I don't think many people realise that to really have a terrific artistic cinema, you have to have people willing to devote their lives to making it happen. That's what producers do.

swissinfo: But they're really the heroes behind the scenes.

C.V.: Yes, I think so to some degree. It's not really fair for me to say that about myself because I do get a fair amount of recognition mostly because I've managed to stay around so long, but it's certainly fair to say that about most of my colleagues.

The producer is really the engine that makes a film run and ultimately there's no other way to describe it because without the engine it stands still.

swissinfo: You have had some very successful movies, like Boys Don't Cry.

C.V.: We've had some great movies: we've had some movies I'm astonished that they didn't do better, we've had some movies I was astonished did as well as they did. One of the great things about the film business is its unpredictability. You're never quite sure what the zeitgeist is ready to embrace.

swissinfo: People have often described your movies as controversial.

C.V.: I wouldn't use the word controversial because that implies a sort of premeditated attempt to make a film that will intentionally distress or upset and I don't think that's what we do at all.

Our intention is to make films that provoke in the best possible way. The controversy surrounding a film like Kids was unfortunate because it in a way usurped the fact that Kids was a terrific film.

swissinfo: You have said that you like true life crime stories in particular, what is the attraction of filming these topics?

C.V.: It tends to be if a true crime captures the public imagination. Think of the Greek gods and goddesses, it's like Greek tragedy. It's all about people you can see from afar, that are playing out these graphically epic dramas that in some way reflect society back to itself.

I don't even know why we were so obsessed with Brandon Teena. When we made Boys Don't Cry there were two other movies in the works that didn't get made. I don't know if it was a national obsession about gender and identification or simply the prurient idea that someone could actually reinvent themselves to that degree, but it definitely spoke about something bigger than the American zeitgeist.

swissinfo: Maire said that he couldn't show so many US independent movies this year because he couldn't find many good ones. Is there an industry "crisis" at the moment?

C.V.: We had the strike, that had a big impact. And everywhere you turn right now you are told art house cinema is dead and film industry is risk averse.

I think it's also that many of the people who made independent films are turning to other media. You can't downplay the fact that a lot of the young, most interesting voices aren't putting those voices on film, they are putting them on their cell phones and on YouTube. We have to figure out as the cinematic community how we're going to handle those kinds of visions. Are they going to be allowed to be shown at Locarno?

...We're just going to have to accept the fact that that's how people are going to consume media and we've got to be part of it or else we'll be left out.

swisinfo: So there's still a future?

C.V.: Oh there's a fantastic future and it's an exciting future because it's about people gaining the means of production themselves.

swissinfo-interview: Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Locarno

Vachon's films

Vachon is primarily associated with director Todd Haynes, whose first feature Poison she produced in 1991. This was screened in competition at Locarno in the same year.

Kim Pierce's Boys Don't Cry (1999) won an Oscar for actress Hilary Swank for her portrayal of Brandon Teena, the transsexual teen whose story it told. Hayne's Far from Heaven received 4 Oscar nominations. I'm Not There, with Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger, is also award-winning. Other famous films: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, One Hour Photo, Happiness and Velvet Goldmine.

Vachon, who co-founded her firm Killer Films in 1995 with Pamela Koffler, has written two books on her life and experience in the industry.

2008 releases include Savage Grace, by Tom Kalin, starring Julianne Moore, and Then She Found Me, the directorial debut of actress Helen Hunt.

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Raimondo Rezzonico Prize

The award was inaugurated in 2002 in memory of the man who was the film festival's president for almost 20 years.

The festival wanted to highlight a profession that too often remains in the background and pay tribute to producers who make quality independent films.

Past recipients include: Paolo Branco, Ruth Waldburger, Karl Baumgartner, Jeremy Thomas, Agat films (led by Robert Guédiguian) and in 2007 Lita Stantic.

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