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Todd Haynes founded Apparatus Productions in 1985 with Barry Ellsworth and Christine Vachon. Apparatus is a non-profit grant-giving organization providing funding, production and distribution support to emerging filmmakers. Todd is also one of the founding members of Gran Fury, a collective of artists in the AIDS activist community.
His short film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story has become an underground cult classic. Written and directed by Haynes, the film traced Karen Carpenter's demise from anorexia nervosa. Using Barbie dolls as actors, a soundtrack of heartrending Carpenters songs, and a '70s wardrobe that any doll would be proud to own, this seminal film demonstrated Haynes' intense empathy and theatrical bravado. The film was awarded the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco Film Festival; and the Best Experimental Film Award at the USA (later Sundance) Film Festival.
Poison, Haynes' first feature film as writer/director, interwove three separate tales of transgression inspired by the writings of Jean Genet. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1991, where it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Film. It subsequently played in over 20 film festivals, earning a Teddy Award at the Berlin International Film Festival and the Critics' Prize at the Locarno International Film Festival, prior to its theatrical release.
The 30-minute short, Dottie Gets Spanked, followed. Set in suburban New York in 1966, the film explored juvenile sexuality through a little boy's obsession with a television comedienne.
Haynes' second feature film, Safe, looked at the life of a California housewife (played by Julianne Moore) who finds that she is becoming allergic to the 20th century. Safe premiered at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival; screened in the Directors Fortnight section of the 1995 Cannes International Film Festival; and was released theatrically in the summer of 1995. In the Village Voice Critics' Poll of 2000, 65 film critics voted Safe the best film of the '90s.
Velvet Goldmine, his third feature as writer/director, premiered as an Official Selection at the 1998 Cannes International Film Festival and earned Haynes a Special Jury Prize for Artistic Contribution. A multi-layered glam-rock epic tracing the rise and fall of a mythical rock star, the film starred Ewan McGregor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Toni Collette, Christian Bale, and Eddie Izzard. Released theatrically in the fall of 1998, Velvet Goldmine won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography (by Maryse Alberti) and earned a BAFTA Award and an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design (by Sandy Powell).