© Arsenal Filmverleih GmbH 

Mexico/Spain 2017

Opening 17 Aug 2017

Directed by: Catherine Gund, Daresha Kyi
Writing credits:

It’s rare to clean out your closet and find a hidden gem that puts you on track to make an award-winning documentary, but that is exactly what happened to director/producer Catherine Gund. It was some old footage from 1991 she was in the process of digitalizing which compelled her to get Daresha Kuyi involved as the second director/producer on this project and create the Mexican film Chavela, which was the basis for her journey into looking at the female lesbian musician from Costa Rica. Leaving an unhappy childhood behind, Isabel Vargas Lizano left for Mexico to follow her dreams of becoming a great musician and at the same time renamed herself Chavela Vargas. By the 1950s she had become a well-known figure among Mexica City’s nightclub scene, including breaking the boundaries of a very macho society where she dared to dress, speak, sing in the traditional Ranchero style that was developed for a man. She had an intimate relationship with Frieda Kahlo, sang at one of Elizabeth Taylor’s weddings and was known for stealing wives from prominent men. It was even said that she slept with Eva Gardner. She was a mystery in many ways. A great many tales were told about her, some even begin with her telling of the rumors. One thing for sure was: she loved her Tequila and dropped into obscurity for a while due to her alcoholism, but she made a remarkable comeback, which included coming out at age 81. It took a long time for her to find the courage to say that, where even we could feel the strong sense of resistance she must have faced, when (while reporting on this film) one of the conservative Mexican newspapers said that we should not discuss her sexuality. It was only important to remember her songs and presence on stage. This led to many other audience members arguing that this film was not just about her singing but about her life. That it was important to see her as a whole person. Even now one could say that she was a wild, sexy lesbian, who knew how to bewitch her audiences and lived to be 93 years of age. It is often tragic to see how long it takes someone to “come out” in society and be accepted as a whole person. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

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