We’ve already seen a handful documentaries on Chavela Vargas since her passing in 2012, but when it comes to Mexico’s inimitable icon of feminine empowerment and unrestrained self-expression, the more, the merrier. For those of us itching for another bitter shot of the iconoclastic songstress, the latest addition to this growing filmography is the aptly titled Chavela, from directors Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi.
Gund first heard of Chavela while spending the summer in Mexico back in the early 90s. Enamored of her brash, unapologetic persona, Gund made it her mission to track Chavela down. The result was a collection of VHS tapes that bore witness to an inspiring conversation between the budding filmmaker and the musical titan before they were stored away and virtually forgotten for the next two decades.
After the singer’s death, Gund began to revisit the tapes and found a treasure trove of raw, authentic Chavela contained within the fading magnetic tape. Teaming up with Kyi, an old friend and fellow filmmaker, Gund set out to bring the tapes back to live within the context of Chavela’s career and living legacy. The resulting documentary draws on brand-new interviews with diverse cultural figures, archival material of both Chavela’s personal and professional life, and of course, the previously unseen recordings from that fateful encounter in 1993. The trailer shows how this all plays out in a rather conventional documentary style, though special attention is paid to Chavela’s infamous personal life and her malleable, carefree sexuality.
Chavela premiered as part of the Panorama section at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.
UPDATE 4/2/2018: The Chavela documentary is now streaming on Amazon.