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Producer Christine Vachon's Killer Life

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Tuesday, January 30----Coming on the heels of the Sundance Film Festival, the film world's annual love fest with American indie cinema, it was perfect timing for the Jacob Burns Film Center to invite veteran indie producer Christine Vachon to give a talk as part of the Center's Women Filmmakers series. Drawing on experiences from her recently published tell-all book on the inner workings of the indie film scene, A KILLER LIFE, the prolific Vachon was in fine form as she was interviewed on stage by New York Times film reviewer and columnist Janet Maslin.

Vachon, a born and bred New Yorker, is only 45 years old, and yet she has been involved with nearly 50 feature films over the past twenty years, starting with an assistant editor credit on the 1986 gay-themed PARTING GLANCES (which, not inconsequentially, launched the career of actor-now-director Steve Buscemi). After several years as an assistant director, she moved into producing, for a film by a filmmaker with whom she has worked several times, Todd Haynes. Their 1991 film POISON was a landmark indie and example of the "new queer cinema", which launched both of their careers as the latest stars of the emerging American independent film scene.

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Her films of the 1990s included such indie landmarks as SWOON (Tom Kalin), GO FISH (Rose Troche), KIDS (Larry Clark), SAFE (Todd Haynes) and I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (Mary Harron). The success of those films moved her and her company Killer Films into bigger budget projects (although decidedly still controversial and completely independently financed). The late 1990s were a particularly heady period, with the emergence of the indie hits (and serious box office contenders), HAPPINESS (Todd Solondz), THE VELVET GOLDMINE (Todd Haynes) and the Oscar-winning BOYS DON'T CRY (directed by Kimberly Pierce and featuring an Oscar-winning performance by Hilary Swank). In the past few years, she has produced such important indie projects as CHELSEA WALLS (Ethan Hawke), ONE HOUR PHOTO (Mark Romanek), FAR FROM HEAVEN (Todd Haynes), A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD (Michael Mayer) and A DIRTY SHAME (John Waters).

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When asked to describe what is a Killer film (a film made by her production company Killer Films), Vachon replied that "what people expect from a Killer film is a degree of originality, provocativeness and a kind of bravado." She attributed her longevity to "staying in the business long enough, so that you eventually get to meet, and possibly even work, with everyone."

When asked about her impression of the Sundance Film Festival, where her latest film drama AN AMERICAN CRIME (directed by Tommy O'Haver) had its world premiere, Vachon said that "Sundance, and independent film in general, is not just about the financing anymore. With all these divisions of film studios involved, it is not the traditional independent business anymore. However, it's really about a singularity of vision on the part of the director and the filmmakers, without interference from the studio suits...that is what makes a film an independent film these days."

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She admits that Killer Films has moved into larger budget films these days. "I've got 8 full time employees to worry about", Vachon explained. "I've had to pass on several films that were budget at under $1 million, even from people with whom I've worked in the past. That's just too small a budget to afford to hire my company these days."

She was visibily distraught when asked a question about INFAMOUS, the second Truman Capote biopic that came out earlier this year to mixed reviews and anemic box office attendance. "We were actually first with the script, before CAPOTE," Vachon explained. "But we waited around for Julia Roberts, who had expressed an interest in playing the part of Harper Lee (which was eventually played by Sandra Bullock). That plus the distributor's hesitation about releasing the film head-to-head with CAPOTE made this a bit of a wreck...I hope it is the only car accident that I ever have."

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When asked about her future projects, Vachon enthusiastically talked about her latest collaboration with director Todd Haynes. "I'M NOT THERE is a film about the many different stages of Bob Dylan, played by seven different people, including Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Richard Gere and Heath Ledger", Vachon said. "This is a pretty big budget, $18 Million dollars...which was financed by foreign sales and soft money (money that does not have to be repaid instantly). The Weinstein Company is set to release it, and has been putting pressure on us to have it ready for the Cannes Film Festival, but Todd will not be rushed."

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She is also producing a long-gestating project from Tom Kalin, with whom she produced SWOON in the early 1990s. The film is titled SAVAGE GRACE, a dramatization of the shocking Barbara Daly Baekeland murder case, which happened in a posh London flat in 1972. The film, which was entirely shot in Barcelona, stars Julianne Moore and should be ready in the next few months.

Vachon was wonderfully candid about her experiences with directors, financiers and distributors. She also was visibly delighted by the clips from her career that were shown on the big screen, including choice sequences from HAPPINESS, ONE HOUR PHOTO, FAR FROM HEAVEN, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH and BOYS DON'T CRY. Following the talk, the veteran producer signed copies of her book A KILLER LIFE for the enthusiastic crowd.

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Sandy Mandelberger
Film New York Editor

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