‘La Senora’ sings again!
Blue Ice Docs presents
Directed by Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi
An icon who scandalized and captivated the world around her, tells her story posthumously in the documentary Chavela.
Engagement begins in Toronto
December 8 – 17
Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Directors are available for interviews
She had an affair with and broke the heart of artist Frida Kahlo. She attended Elizabeth Taylor’s Acapulco wedding, and woke up in bed with the movie star Ava Gardner. She wielded a gun and indulged in tequila with legendary enthusiasm.
And her singing made Spanish director Pedro Almodovar – and millions of others – cry. Her death in 2012 saw mourning akin to a Mexican state funeral.
She was Chavela Vargas, ‘La Senora’ to her younger lovers, a performer who broke barriers in patriarchal Mexico by refusing to wear dresses and adopting the performance persona of the “charro” (a singing-cowboy genre plied by her legendary and tragic friend and collaborator Jose Alfredo Jimenez).
But when she sang the emotional “ranchera” love songs, it was said her heart broke so openly, it seemed she might die onstage.
A woman who dared, Vargas’s astonishing story is told in Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi’s documentary Chavela – a valuable piece of cultural history wrapped around an exclusive 1992 interview that is mischievous, frank and revealing.
In her 70s at the time, with a lifetime of experiences behind her, Vargas was merely in the midst of a hiatus. A last act, partly orchestrated by her admirer Almodovar (who used her songs in his soundtracks), would see her on the great stages of Europe and at Carnegie Hall, captivating audiences until nearly her dying day.
Co-director Catherine Gund was the interviewer, availing herself of a rare opportunity during a time she spent living south of Mexico City. “My girlfriends played me Chavela’s songs and told me tales of her womanizing, her irresistible allure, her deep voice, her audacity. I had to meet her.
“Before cell phones, I carried a video camera in my backpack everywhere I went. I begged my friends to help me create a face-to-face moment with Chavela. In my broken Spanish, I made her laugh her gorgeous laugh, and felt her magnetism. She agreed to the interview and she did not disappoint. It is no wonder she is called The Rough Voice of Tenderness. I was fascinated by her lightness and ease and masculinity.”
Awash in evocative footage, Chavela follows Vargas from her awkward childhood in Costa Rica, to her invention of herself in Mexico, to the cult of personality that grew around her – the “black legend” – and the various dangerous behaviors that almost robbed us of her decades before her time.
And it recounts the “second coming” of Chavela, the bows in sold-out theatres that provided closure to this force of nature.
Chavela is a documentary that tells stories about stories. If some of Chavela’s legend is apocryphal (did she really lose a record contract because she stole the label owner’s wife?), the spirit behind the legend is powerful and unforgettable.
“For me, Chavela’s life is not a cautionary tale, but rather, a rich subterranean dimension of our own living,” Gund says. “She is not a role model, but a muse; not only an elder, but a frame for our contemporary desires.”
About BLUE ICE DOCS
Founded in 2014 in partnership between Robin Smith, president of KinoSmith, and Blue Ice Group co-owners, Steven Silver and Neil Tabatznik, Blue Ice Docs uses the expertise and skills of both organizations to acquire, fund and develop a wide variety of non-fiction projects from around the world. Upcoming releases include, SPETTACOLO, MOUNTAIN, AIDA’S SECRETS, THE WORKERS CUP, MUHI: GENERALLY TEMPORARY, MODIFIED, and DRIES.