By Margarita Sophia Cortes
It was back in 1991, when Catherine Gund heard a song on a record player outside Mexico City that would lead her to this day. “My girlfriends played songs from Chavela and told me tales of her womanizing, her irresistible allure, her deep voice, her audacity” said Gund.
Through the power of friends and an old video camera in her backpack, she was able to record a once in a lifetime meeting with then 71 year old Chavela Vargas. There in Vargas’ home, Gund and a group of women had an intimate conversation about life, love, music and passion.
That vintage interview would become the centerpiece of the critically acclaimed documentary Chavela produced and directed by Catherine Gund and Kyi. Alongside that fascinating interview and vintage clips, the documentary features rare performances and together, they present an evocative portrait of one of the Latin world’s most charismatic and trailblazing artists.
Born in Costa Rica in 1919, Chavela Vargas ran away to Mexico City as a teenager to sing in the streets. By the 1950s, she gained a name for herself in Mexico, and later worldwide, chiefly for her unique and passionate interpretation of “rancheras,” traditional Mexican songs that speak frequently about love. Just as influential were her cultural contributions—Chavela was a bold and rebellious sexual pioneer who was known for having many female lovers at a time when being outwardly gay in Mexico was dangerous.
The film draws in audiences immediately as it begins with the Chavela Vargas saying “Ask me where I’m going, not where I’ve been.” Just as Chavela herself was a feminist muse for women, this documentary, made by women filmmakers also mirror the importance of women’s voices.
In the documentary, you hear Chavela proudly state “It is a blessing to be born a woman” and Gund echoes that message as she explains why it’s vital for women to keep producing more films. “We have experiences we see in a certain way. We have ways of processing them that men don’t necessarily begin with, or end with.”
We sat down with director Catherine Gund to discuss her personal connection with the artist, how Chavela is still relevant today, and of course, the music. You can see the full conversation with Catherine Gund below
Chavela is available now on iTunes, Amazon Instant, or GooglePlay and on DVD with special bonus features.
(produced by Nimo Productions)