New Doc Introduces Frida Kahlo Like Never Before

promotional image of the documentary "Frida" directed by Carla Gutierrez
Poster for the documentary film "Frida"

Frida Kahlo is a pop culture icon not just in Mexico but around the world. Her multifaceted, fiercely lived existence, depicted in her deeply personal paintings, has resonated with people from all walks of life, but especially Latinas, both inside and outside of the United States.

One of the countless Latinas touched by Frida Kahlo’s work is Carla Gutierrez, an Emmy and Eddie nominated documentary editor who developed a strong connection with the artist. In an interview with Luz Media through Zoom, Gutierrez said, “I discovered her really young. I was a new immigrant and I saw her painting Self-portrait on the Borderline Between Mexico and the United States, and I was like, “Who is this artist that’s showing my own feelings to myself? That was the beginning of my obsession with her.”

That emotional connection with Kahlo and her work continued throughout Gutierrez’s life and is now cemented in her latest project and directorial debut, “Frida,” a raw and intimate documentary that tells the artist’s story through her own words from diaries, letters, essays, and interviews. Kahlo’s words, which are delivered in heartfelt narration by Fernanda Echevarría del Rivero, are accompanied by photos and her unforgettable artwork, brought to life through lyrical animations that add movement and feeling.

When asked why she decided to make this documentary, Gutierrez explained, “One of the reasons is because I hadn’t seen a documentary really focus on her voice. When I started looking into the story, I saw that she actually had a lot to say about her own life, and her words were out there in archival material. So I saw that there was an opportunity to let her actually speak and tell us her own story.”

And that’s exactly what she accomplished.

“Frida” tells the story of her life in chronological order, covering her childhood, the devastating accident that changed her life, and her tumultuous relationship with the famed muralist Diego Rivera, all the way up to her death. However, the documentary goes beyond a simple biography by showing her internal, emotional journey into becoming the artist and icon that she is today, and it feels like she’s truly the one speaking.

It’s an intimate narrative that doesn’t shy away from what many may think of as the “ugly” parts of life and doesn’t try to embellish either. In watching this documentary, viewers will feel like they’re sitting down with Kahlo herself as she opens up her inner world to them, revealing her joy, pain, love of life, and shortcomings.

Gutierrez also shared that, due to finding Kahlo’s work at such a pivotal time in her life, she developed an emotional connection with the artist. “Obviously, there’s millions of people in the world that have that emotional connection. So who am I [...] to say ‘Well then, I’ll tell her story’? But I was coming to her with that emotional connection and emotional understanding of the Latino culture, [...] and a lot of experience as a documentary editor putting these stories together [...], so I felt like I could bring something into this story,” she explained.

“Frida” is a project fueled by passion, creativity, and a desire to amplify the real voice of Frida Kahlo. As Gutierrez put it, “The aim is [...] how do we show somebody beyond the icon image we have of them? Which is kind of reduced and flattened. I think a lot of people see Frida as very empowered and she knew herself, but we really wanted to show the complexity and messiness that we all have.” Gutierrez continued by saying, “She [Frida Kahlo] guided us. In all the writings that we have of her, she’s not describing the things that happened; she’s telling us how she felt.”

The project is also fueled by Latino talent, as almost everyone who worked on it, from production and sound effects to animations and additional crew, is Latino, based in the U.S. and Mexico. As a predominantly Latino and female production, something Gutierrez is very proud of, the team was particularly passionate about honoring Kahlo and her art.

Portrait of the filmmaker Carla GutierrezPortrait of Carla Gutiérrez, the director of the documentary "Frida"

Like many artists, Frida Kahlo’s recognition started growing after she died in 1954, so the world didn’t have the opportunity to dissect and understand her work with her. The iconic status that she gained after her death is still an amazing achievement, but there’s a tendency to separate her from her legacy.

“Frida” shows us that we can, indeed, understand the artist and her work with her. She left her feelings in her paintings and her words for us to find. This documentary unearths Frida Kahlo in a fresh, intimate way, allowing us a precious glimpse into who she really was as a woman. In showing us the depth and nuance of Kahlo, the documentary leaves viewers with valuable insights about resilience, vulnerability, womanhood, and more.

We asked Gutierrez what she hopes Latinas get out of this earnest documentary and she said, “In general, I want everybody to find the courage in what Frida did in expressing herself at her most intimate through her art. It was a process of catharsis for her and, in a way, it was therapy. What she lost in life, she kinda found in the creative process, and she did it with a lot of honesty and rawness.”

She continued, “I want Latinas to be inspired by that because sometimes in our culture, that’s not necessarily an important thing. Especially for women. To talk about how we feel, our heartaches, our experiences. They’re the most important things to speak about with honesty and it’s something that can help you and also the person listening.”

Viewers of this movie might be inspired to take a page out of Frida Kahlo’s book and live life as authentically, fiercely, and loudly as possible. “Frida” released March 14, 2023 on Prime Video.

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