Member Spotlight: Carla Rosen-Vacher on Producing Orson Welles’ Last Film, Honoring her Blacklisted Aunt, and Being an AFI Member
AFI member Carla Rosen-Vacher is as unassuming as she is passionate about her love of film and theater. She has taken up the mantle of film producer, helping to complete Orson Welles’ unfinished and final film, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, as an executive producer — an impressive feat considering Welles shot nearly 100 hours of footage. She also co-produced VALLEY OF THE GODS, a new film directed by Polish auteur Lech Majewski, starring Josh Hartnett and John Malkovich, which just had its premiere at the Gdynia film festival.
While Rosen-Vacher is currently based in Luxembourg, she grew up in New York City, graduating from Harvard with an Economics degree and earning her MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania where she also excelled in languages at the Lauder Institute. Thanks to her knack for linguistics, she has been able to move fairly easily between countries, working in marketing, advertising and non-profit fundraising in Dusseldorf, Paris and the U.S. throughout an astonishingly varied career.
It’s no surprise that Rosen-Vacher eventually found her way to the film industry as her aunt is none other than Anne Revere, an Academy Award®-winning and Tony Award-winning actress. Revere starred in projects that were incredibly bold for the time, including originating the role of Martha Dobie in THE CHILDREN’S HOUR and portraying Gregory Peck’s mother in GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT — one of the first films in Hollywood to ever tackle anti-semitism. In 1950s Hollywood, Revere was a revolutionary and progressive figure, refusing to testify before Senator Joe McCarthy and the House of Un-American Activities, which ultimately led her to be blacklisted from the film industry.
To honor the legacy of her aunt, Rosen-Vacher made a planned gift to AFI in 2011, which will include a collection of autographed photographs from Revere as well as a generous gift to establish the Anne Revere Endowed Scholarship.
AFI spoke with her about her producing ventures, developing her aunt’s story into a feature and what being an AFI member means to her.
AFI: Can you tell me a little bit about your trajectory in the arts and how you got your start?
CRV: Film and theater are in my DNA. Back in the day, my uncle was an MGM talent scout who was also a theatrical playwright and director. And my aunt Anne Revere was a successful actress until the Hollywood Blacklist. Unfortunately, like hundreds of other professionals, she was blacklisted unfairly in 1952 — not for refusing to name names exactly, but for refusing to cooperate with the McCarthy investigation, which everyone who was progressive considered a witch hunt. Out of moral principal, she plead the fifth when called to testify.
I actually originally wanted to be an actress. My parents were kind enough to send me to acting school — the American Academy of Dramatic Arts — when I was young, and I was very involved in plays at school. While my family has always been into film and theater, they were not interested in advertising, marketing or branding — whereas I’ve always loved brands. It might have been a natural reaction to do my own thing. I majored in Economics in college, but always knew that I wanted to do something with brands, which is why I went into advertising when I graduated.
AFI: How did you find your way back to the arts after working outside of the field?
CRV: In the back of my mind, I thought that it wasn’t enough to say that I have this family heritage in film and theater. I’m really passionate about it and wanted to do something active with it. At the Berlin Film Festival in 2011, I was introduced to my current partner at Royal Road Entertainment, Filip Jan Rymsza.
At the time, he had acquired the rights to Orson Welles’ last film — THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. It was so thrilling to me because it connected me to my aunt’s era of Hollywood. I agreed to come on as a financial partner and was given the opportunity to executive produce the film by raising money to finish the project. We had the good fortune of selling it to Netflix, so we recouped and got the proper equity return on our investment and managed to get the film finished.
AFI: Tell me a little bit more about some of your collaborators on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND.
CRV: We had a fabulous Oscar®-winning editor, Bob Murawski (THE HURT LOCKER), who cut the nearly 100 hours of footage that Orson Welles shot. It was also wonderful to work with producer Frank Marshall because I absolutely love the INDIANA JONES films and everything that he’s ever made, so that was a real treat.
AFI: How was it to premiere the film at the Venice Film Festival? With the footage lying dormant for 48 years, did you feel tremendous pressure about completing Welles’ last film?
CRV: Definitely. We wanted to get it right. I actually was lucky enough to go to Paris to see the original film. And what was so impressive was the quality of it after all this time. The French are especially adroit at preserving films, so it was carefully wrapped and stored in a vault so that it survived fairly well. That was very inspirational.
For the technicians, the film was incredibly difficult to edit, but they somehow were able to build on what was actually shot. There are some clever sections where they put banners in between scenes to indicate missing footage. It was a challenge, but everyone’s just so proud that we have this amazing link to film history.
AFI: What kind of advantages or challenges have you encountered by being a producer based in Luxembourg?
CRV: My partner and I created Royal Road Entertainment Luxembourg four and a half years ago to make co-productions. It’s like the U.S. in that every country has its own tax credit system. I served on the Pittsburgh Film Office Board of Trustees for over 10 years, so I know a lot about the importance of attracting productions and how the States are doing a good job with subsidies.
The challenge in Europe is that, unfortunately, there can be uneven quality compared to the U.S. Locally, we have trouble finding talent and crew sometimes. Often, the supply doesn’t match the demand. But in order to qualify for financing, you also have to use cast and crew who are local. Although it really depends on the country.
AFI: Tell me a little bit about your new film VALLEY OF THE GODS. What are the plans for the film’s release?
CRV: It’s a very quirky, original film directed by Polish auteur Lech Majewski and starring Josh Hartnett and John Malkovich. We are taking the film to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) market, and my partners and I have secured a sales agent, so we’re going to try to make sure it gets sold and distributed.
AFI: Can you talk about your aunt Anne Revere’s legacy and what it meant to you growing up as her niece?
CRV: We were really proud of her of course. After the blacklist, Anne and her husband actually moved back to New York, so we had more contact with them. I really admire that she was able to reconnect with director and playwright Lillian Hellman and do TOYS IN THE ATTIC, for which she won a Tony Award.
With the blessing of my extended family, I’m honoring her memory by developing a film project about her life, which I’m producing on my own. I’m really passionate about Anne’s life story as an independent, strong intellectual woman who was also an actor. She represented a very unusual type of person, especially for her generation, because she was so independent, but still replied to her call. Acting was what she was really passionate about.
She was also a very strong Civil Rights advocate, which got her in trouble for trying to help people as a progressive person in society. I really admire her integrity and her principles and the values she stuck by — sadly, to the detriment of her career and life with the blacklist. I actually had the good fortune of speaking with George Clooney at the AFI AWARDS about her. I mentioned this project to him because he made GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK and is also passionate about the politics of this era. I was really touched when his eyes lit up after I mentioned my aunt’s name.
AFI: How has your aunt’s story and her resilience shaped you and resonated with you as a producer as well as a patron of the arts?
CRV: I think she was an inspiration because she followed her passion and stuck by it. When her film career tragically and abruptly ended, she returned to her roots in theater. I really respect that she stayed with her passion even through such hardship. She didn’t reinvent herself, but, instead, went back to her roots and had success again in the theater. Thanks to collaborators, including Lillian Hellman and others who helped blacklisted artists find work, she was able to stay in the business. I have so much gratitude to those people who were supportive. Luckily, they didn’t try to blacklist actors in theater. Anne, of course, served as a model for me in my support of the arts. My mother was a professional artist as well. She was a painter, and, like my aunt, provided this incredible example through her love and appreciation and respect for the arts.
AFI: How did you become an AFI member, and what has being a member meant to you?
CRV: I am so glad to be a member and to be able to support AFI’s educational, preservation and archival work. In 2009 before I was involved with AFI, I saw that Michael Douglas was being honored with the AFI Life Achievement Award. He’s one of my all-time favorite actors, so I called up the office and asked if I could attend. And that’s when I learned I could become a member and buy a ticket to the event. By luck, I had met Michael in Pittsburgh when I worked on the film WONDER BOYS 10 years prior. That Gala Tribute was such a dream, and I got to speak with Michael and the late great Curtis Hanson. And I’ve returned nearly each year ever since. It’s just a thrill and the most professionally produced event I’ve ever experienced.