Producer Christine Vachon, who will receive the Special Teddy at the Berlin Film Festival’s queer awards ceremony on Friday, discussed her long career at this year’s Queer Academy Summit on Wednesday, including her work with Todd Haynes, LGBT cinema and the challenges of financing female-driven films.
The annual Queer Academy gathering brings together international filmmakers and festival organizers during the Berlin Film Festival to discuss LGBT cinema, a major topic at this year’s fest in light of the Teddy’s 30th anniversary.
Vachon was in Berlin in 1991 with Haynes’ first feature, “Poison,” which won that year’s Teddy Award. Asked whether she missed the more chaotic, less institutionalized nature of the queer award 25 years ago, Vachon responded: “I’m not much for nostalgia. I don’t really like to look backwards. What I think is pretty amazing is that 30 years ago the Teddy existed. When we got to Berlin with ‘Poison,’ we were told that there was an award we could win, and we were like, ‘For a gay movie?’ In a festival that isn’t known as a gay film festival, that felt really revolutionary. That was extraordinary.”
Vachon, who runs New York-based Killer Films with Pam Koffler, said winning the Teddy definitely brings a film “distinction, and part of this distinction is that it’s an award in a festival that has a lot of cultural currency.”
Nevertheless, Vachon said making gay-themed films did not always endear her to the queer community. “I’ve always made movies that I love and that I’m passionate about, and some of them are very queer and some of them are not.” She added that some early films like Tom Kalin’s “Swoon,” about gay lovers who murdered a child, generated quite a bit of hate mail from members of the queer community who took issue with the negative portrayal of gay characters.
“In the early ’90s when we were dealing with the AIDS crisis, there was a lot of pressure on anybody making any kind of queer content,” Vachon said. “There was this whole notion of positive imaging. … ‘Poison’ was not considered particularly positive, but ‘Swoon’ was really considered not positive. … I got a lot of hate mail.” The criticism, Vachon observed, “supposes that there’s one gay positive image for everybody, and obviously that’s not true either.”
Looking at how the nature of film financing has changed over the years, Vachon said today financing depends largely on cast, foreign sales and understanding as a filmmaker “what your film’s worth is in the marketplace and why. Now it’s all about cast, for better or worse. I’m not complaining about putting someone like Julianne Moore in ‘Still Alice’ — a wonderful marriage of fantastic part and perfect actress that got the best possible result.”
Nevertheless, Vachon pointed out that securing financing for female-driven films remained a major challenge. “Female-driven stories, whether they’re gay or straight or black or Latino or whatever, are tough. They are amongst the hardest. When you’re trying the finance a female-driven story, most of the time you’re being asked, ‘Who’s the guy?’ With ‘Still Alice,’ a lot of the financing was about the guy. We used to say, it’s not called ‘Still Alice and John.’ That’s an issue. … ‘Carole’ has two bona-fide movie stars in it, and that is a big part of how it got financed.”
Luck also plays an important role. Despite the difficult subject matter of Kalin’s 2007 drama “Savage Grace,” starring Moore and a young Eddie Redmayne in his breakout role, the film came together surprisingly smoothly, Vachon added. “Sometimes with getting a movie greenlit, you feel like it couldn’t have happened the day before and it couldn’t have happened the next day, but somehow the stars aligned.”
Vachon is one of the producers of Andrew Neel’s frat hazing drama “Goat,” which premieres Wednesday in Berlin. As part of the Teddy’s 30th anniversary special showcase, she will also present John Cameron Mitchell’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” which won the Berlin queer award in 2001.