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Q&A with Indie film icon

Sophia Guerrier, A&E Editor

   Rhode Island College had the privilege to host Emmy and Oscar winning film producer, Christine Vachon, at Gaige Hall last Thursday to showcase two Todd Haynes directed films and speak to RIC students. 

    Vachon, 56, is no stranger to Providence, having graduated from Brown University in 1983 and then heading on to New York City where she would coincidentally meet fellow Brown alumni and future long time collaborator Todd Haynes at a proofreading job for a cable company. After Haynes’ “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story” (1987) Vachon realized she wanted to try her hand in the film industry. The rest is history as Vachon would produce almost every Haynes film including multi academy award winning films “Still Alice”, “Carol”, “Boys Don’t Cry” and over 75 feature films. The Anchor was able to speak to the indie film champion and ask her a few questions about her thoughts on the film industry and her work. 

You graduated from Brown University, does it ever feel nostalgic being back in Providence ?

    Of course. I had lunch with a lot of the faculty who all wanted to talk about what Providence used to feel like. When I was at Brown, the students didn't really go into the city, they stayed up on that hill. And now it seems like the downtown is so rejuvenated. I love it, I like it better. 

The average person may not know the exact role of a film producer, as best as you can, how would you describe the profession and the work you do ? 

    The film producer is really the engine on the train. They often will find the material, whether it’s a book or article or true life story, they will then attach a writer and potentially a director; and then start putting together the elements, the actors etc, with a view of getting it financed or setting it up with a studio. Producers originate more of the movies, I know their unsung, when you go see a movie you assume it’s the director’s film and it is. But it’s the director’s film because we gave the director the opportunity to make it their film. 

What made you take a direction of producing mainly LGBTQ themed films ? 

   It was a time when there was virtually nothing if you were LGBTQ. But I mean there wasn’t really anything for you if you were black or latino or if you were asian for that matter either. Movies were pretty mainstream and pretty straight and pretty white. When we made “Poison” it got labeled as a LGBTQ film , this extraordinary thing happened which was the queer audience turned up to see that movie like nobody’s business. It was empowering to realize that if you’re making a movie for an underserved audience, you can make it for the right price and you can make your money back, you didn’t need anyone else to come see it. And that was this revelation. 

Would you say that there’s been strides taken in the film industry when it comes to presenting LGBTQ characters compared to the 80s and 90s when you started producing films ? 

    The real challenge for independent film right now is almost less about representation and more about will it even exist … At some point television, let’s lump all the streaming services and networks into one bin, started to embrace risk a lot more than the movies did. So I think then probably when you were coming of age and you wanted to see yourself represented, you didn’t have to go to the movies. You could probably find a show that spoke to you on one of those services. 

Because of the opportunities that streaming platforms are adding, would you consider it easier to get into content creating than before ? 

    It’s easier in the sense that you could be filming this interview and in a half hour you would have it up on your youtube channel and maybe after an hour have 20,000 views. So that’s easier cause none of that existed. And the other thing that’s easier is filmmaking always seemed like it was a rich kid hobby because film was so expensive, camera rentals were so expensive, and even if you managed to get yourself into film school they didn’t pay for your film, you had to pay for it. … At the beginning we would often commit to something without seeing a short film, because I thought it’s not unfair not everyone can do one. But now you can make a film on that (a phone) and demonstrate that you know how to tell a story, 

Is there any upcoming projects or ideas that you are excited about producing ? 

    We have “Dark Waters” opening on Nov. 22 which is Todd Haynes’ latest movie with Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway. We have two movies that we shot over the summer that are very exciting. One is “Shirley” by Joesephine Decker  with Elizabeth Moss and Michael Stuhlbarg. Then “Zola” directed by Janivcza Bravo.