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10 to Watch: George LaVoo

Character-driven stories told with emotion a key selling point

At the Sundance Film Festival in January during a presentation of Patricia Cardoso’s “Real Women Have Curves,” the capacity audience at the Park City Library Center could not have been more animated or enthusiastic, alternately laughing, cheering and tearing up at this heartfelt tale of female empowerment.

George LaVoo, who produced the film with Effie Brown, says that UA chief Bingham Ray turned toward him after one of a handful of well-received screenings and said, “You cry, you buy.” It didn’t matter that the movie wasn’t for sale, as HBO Films already controlled the rights; the point reinforced what drew LaVoo to the project in the first place.

“I’d seen the play that Josefina Lopez had written and thought it was very different,” says LaVoo, who co-wrote the screenplay with Lopez. “There was this emotional connection with the audience, and I got caught up in the same way that the audience did in these women’s lives.”

LaVoo also could relate to Ana, the film’s young college-bound protagonist whose Rubenesque figure is the object of her mother’s scorn and invites questions about society’s definitions of beauty.

“When I was 15 I weighed 200 pounds and was much shorter,” says LaVoo, who now weighs in at a svelte 150. “So I went through high school understanding what that prejudice is all about.”

LaVoo has a predilection for underdogs and outcasts — the disadvantaged whose resilience and good intentions make them survivors. When he worked in acquisitions at Fine Line, he championed the early Jane Campion film “An Angel at My Table,” about troubled New Zealand poet Janet Frame, and Gus Van Sant’s “My Own Private Idaho,” a rueful tale about male street hustlers in the Pacific Northwest. Prior to “Real Women,” he co-produced “Getting to Know You,” based on stories by Joyce Carol Oates, which features a strong cast of actors, naturalistic situations and the kind of compassion for its characters that’s evident in all of LaVoo’s work.

Next up for LaVoo is a feature-directing gig for HBO. In the meantime he’ll be at Cannes talking up a couple of projects that he’s been busy writing. LaVoo’s also very high on a book he optioned by Jon Katz, “A Dog Year,” which he describes as a true story “about an incredibly original character who’s gone through a powerful, emotional experience that’s written with searing honesty.”

Snapshot:

Primary credits: “Real Women Have Curves,” “Getting to Know You,” exec produced and co-wrote “Frisk”

Definition of a producer: “The producer is the architect — someone who gives everyone else the strength to do their best job and helps define what that structure is going to be.”

Strengths: “The desire to tell stories that are really honest and have strong emotions.”

Achilles’ heel: “There’s not much rest in this work so I don’t allow much time for other things in my life.”

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