Documentary Explores the 20th-Century Icon Who Became an International Sensation in the Worlds of Art, Culture and Radical Politics
Washington, D.C. - “The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo” chronicles the life and art of the great Mexican painter as never before, framing Kahlo’s life in relationship to the historical and cultural influences that inspired her and defined the first half of the 20th century. The 90-minute high-definition film is a production of Daylight Films and WETA Washington, D.C., in association with Latino Public Broadcasting. It premieres March 23, 2005, at 9 p.m., on PBS stations nationwide. (Check local listings.)
Rita Moreno – the Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy Award-winning actress – narrates the film. Mexican singer Lila Downs is the voice of Kahlo.
“The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo” is an intimate biography of a woman who gracefully balanced a private life of illness and pain against a public persona that was flamboyant, irreverent and world-renowned. Kahlo was an eyewitness to a unique pairing of revolution and renaissance that defined the times in which she lived. Through the prism of her life and art, the film explores the ancient culture of Mexico; the Mexican Revolution; the wildfire of communism that burned through Latin America in the 1920s and ’30s; the innovators in painting, photography, filmmaking, writing and poetry that congregated in Mexico City; and the revival of interest in popular culture for which Kahlo has become a symbol.
Kahlo is best known for dozens of self-portraits through which she tells the story of her dramatic life. She was severely injured in a bus accident at 18, and her paintings reflect the debilitating effects she endured for the rest of her life: 35 operations, body casts, metal corsets, constant pain and the inability to bear a child. Kahlo’s work also reflects her passionate love affairs (including a brief one with Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky), and her turbulent marriage to Mexican muralist painter Diego Rivera.
Award-winning filmmaker Amy Stechler of Daylight Films was granted unprecedented access to photographs, paintings, newsreels and home movies, many of which have never been published or broadcast. Stechler’s research includes more than 20 interviews with principals in Kahlo’s life, including Mexican authors Carlos Fuentes and Carlos Monsivais and Kahlo’s principal biographer, Hayden Herrera.
“Three years ago, the only thing I knew about Frida Kahlo was that she was a painter who had a legendary, lifelong passion for another painter, and I assumed that he was a ravishing character,” says Stechler. “Then I saw a newsreel clip of Diego Rivera painting a mural in Detroit. He was an ugly man with the face of a frog and narrow sloping shoulders, an enormous belly and tiny hands and feet. I became enthralled with the question: Who was this woman who adored him?”
The film was shot on location in Mexico where Kahlo lived and painted – at the Casa Azul, her beloved blue home and studio; Xochimilco, the city of floating gardens; Rivera’s San Angel studio; and San Ildefonso, where Kahlo attended Mexico’s famed school, the Preparatoria.
The musical score was created entirely with traditional Mexican and period music. Some comes directly from old field or studio recordings found in archives in the United States and Mexico. The rest was recorded for the film in Mexico by contemporary folk musicians.
A companion Web site at www.pbs.org/fridakahlo expands upon Kahlo’s story. The site features a library of her art, an interactive timeline reflecting the confluence of Kahlo’s life and her art, excerpts from interviews, and educational guides for teachers and parents.
Corporate funding has been provided by Frito-Lay, Inc., and Sabritas. Funding has also been provided by Peter and Helen Bing, the New Hampshire Humanities Council, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS.
“The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo” is produced, directed and written by Amy Stechler, who co-produced, wrote and edited many of the early films of Ken Burns: “Brooklyn Bridge” (nominated for an Academy Award), “The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God” and “Huey Long.” Stechler also served as an editing consultant for “The Civil War.” She is president of Daylight Films. Maia Harris and Victor Zamudio-Taylor are the film’s co-producers.
Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB) supports the development, production, acquisition and distribution of noncommercial educational and cultural television that is representative of Latino people, or addresses issues of particular interest to Latino Americans. These programs are produced for dissemination to public broadcasting stations and other public telecommunication entities. By acting as minority consortium, LPB provides a voice to the diverse Latino community throughout the United States. For more information, visit www.lpbp.org.
WETA is the third-largest producer of television programming in the PBS system and the flagship public broadcaster in the nation’s capital. Among WETA's productions, co-productions and presentations are “Washington Week,” “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” and the four-part series “Avoiding Armageddon.” WETA is co-producer of documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns, including “The Civil War,” “JAZZ” and “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.” In June 2004, WETA launched its newest weekly public affairs series “Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered.” Sharon Percy Rockefeller is president and CEO of WETA. For more information on WETA and its programs, visit the Web site at www.weta.org.
PBS, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, is a private, nonprofit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation’s 349 public television stations. Serving nearly 100 million people each week, PBS enriches the lives of Americans through quality programs and education services on noncommercial television, the Internet and other media. More information about PBS is available at www.pbs.org, the leading dot-org Web site on the Internet.