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  • Sat 18 Nov
  • 96 minutes
  • Director: Catherine Gund & Daresha Kyi
  • USA (2017)


‘It could not have been easy being a cigar-smoking, tequila-swigging, gun-toting lesbian who sang cowboy songs in macho Mexico through much of the 20th century.’ That’s what The Independent wrote in their obituary on Chavela’s death in 1992. Born in Costa Rica in 1919 Chavela made her way to the United States via the Pan-American Highway at age 14. Her travels brought her to Mexico City where she met painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo who set her on a journey of artistic discovery leading her to perform in 1950s Hollywood hotspot Acapulco including at the wedding of Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Todd. Chavela’s heartfelt renditions of ranchera songs, traditionally sung by men about women, made her widely known in the Spanish-speaking world as well as a queer icon of the time but when her alcoholism became too much of a risk for promoters to take she sank into obscurity from the mid-1970s until the championing by mega-fan Pedro Almodovar, who used her music in many of his films, lead to a career resurgence in her sunset years.

Catherine Gund & Daresha Kyi’s film rediscovers the legacy of a headstrong woman that lived her life to the fullest despite societal and familial expectations and combines concert footage, archival interviews with lovers and friends and Chavela’s very frank recollections into a vibrant portrait of a fascinating performer.

Followed by a Q&A with director Catherine Gund.