Centerpiece: Documentary

Director: Catherine Gund & Daresha Kyi
2017 | USA | 90m
GENRE: Biography/History | Butch/Femme Issues | Drugs/Addiction | Latino/a | Lesbian | Music/Music Videos
SECTION: Centerpiece | Documentary
Expected Guests: Directors, Catherine Gund & Daresha Kyi


This vibrant crowd-pleaser, which premiered at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival, re-discovers the legacy of iconic chanteuse and sexual outlaw Chavela Vargas, a pistol-packing, cigar-smoking, tequila-downing, woman-loving singer whose renditions of classic Mexican ranchera songs are definitive for many Latinos.

Chavela's love affairs with Ava Gardner and Frida Kahlo gave her a reputation as the ultimate seducer, and her frequent collaborations later in life with Pedro Almodóvar (who is featured prominently in the film) solidified her artistic influence throughout the world. But it was her voice, swagger, and hunger for the spotlight that made her one of the greatest of all live performers - a reputation the film resoundingly confirms.

This hunger lends Chavela a fiery momentum that makes essential a past that feels more relevant now than ever. Directors Catherine Gund (Born to Fly, Frameline38) and Daresha Kyi dive deep into archival interviews with Chavela during her later years, positioning her nostalgic - and quite frank - recollections as a starting point for what becomes a complex portrait of the artist as both a performer of indefatigable power as well as a fragile and tortured human being. Telling anecdotes teem with humor, as well as some outrage (especially regarding the rampant misogyny and homophobia she had to endure), while other revelations about her affairs and broken partnerships pack powerful emotional punches. The result is a larger-than-life portrait of one of the toughest, most talented singers of her generation, a macha lesbian who played by her own rules, baffling and transfixing an entire industry and countless audiences in the process.  


This film is a recipient of a Frameline Completion Fund grant. 

Cine+Mas - San Francisco Latino Film Festival / Galería de la Raza

  • Website: Official Website
  • Language: In Spanish and English with English subtitles
  • Premiere Status: Bay Area