Director Carla Gutierrez wanted to give artist Frida Kahlo to the people, specifically the people of Mexico who call her an icon. Though Gutierrez herself is a Peruvian immigrant, as a woman from Latin America she was familiar with the acclaimed artist and felt a deep protectiveness of her.
“She’s become such a big icon and there [are] a lot of communities [who] claim her,” Gutierrez told TheWrap’s Editor-in-Chief Sharon Waxman while at TheWrap’s Sundance Portrait and Interview Studio presented by NFP. “We see ourselves reflected in her art and in her image,” she said.
“I wanted to work on this because I had, like many of us, a connection to her art,” said Gutierrez. “I had not seen a film that had really focused on her voice, completely.” The former editor turned director knew there was a lot of material out there, but much of it wasn’t obvious. Kahlo gave interviews towards the end of her brief life — dying at 47 — but they were short. “We knew that we had to do a lot of work in piecing her life together and leaning into her emotions through letters,” she said.
The production team was surprised by how much Kahlo could already narrate her own story through the use of her letters and diaries. There wasn’t a need for outside voices. This allowed them to focus less on the details and more on her feelings and emotions in her life. “I felt that i was bringing in a different way of looking at her work and her life,” said Gutierrez.
The goal was to bring audiences into Kahlo’s life in a more intimate and raw way. That came through by the use of animation. “Our intention with animation was to bring audiences into her mind and into her heart,” Gutierrez said. “That’s how we wanted to show her internal world.” And that intentionality extended to the animators themselves, the majority predominately women and/or from Mexico.
Because Diego Rivera left both his and wife Kahlo’s legacies to the people of Mexico, Gutierrez and crew didn’t need permission from the family, per se. But they did spend significant time with both Cristina Kahlo, Frida Kahlo’s great-niece and Diego Rivera’s grandson. “He gave us the internal family understanding of their lives,” she said. She also made a point of speaking to academics who collected Kahlo’s writings, all of which just expanded the pool of Mexican collaborators on the project (that also included their composer).
“We knew that this film was really about a woman who[se] voice could not be contained,” said Gutierrez. “We also wanted to make that strong connection because her art originated from very specific life experiences she went through.” She wanted the doc to show how Kahlo’s paintings came from very intimate moments of her life. “The film really shows you how her life was so connected to how she expressed that in her paintings.”
When asked what Frida Kahlo means after all these years, Gutierrez responds with: “She means release. She’s a person [who] was able to release everything that was going on in her internal world into her paintings.” Kahlo frequently talked about how she painted her veins and put that on canvas. “I want audiences to have that sense of her and be inspired by that.”
Amazon Studios is releasing “Frida.”
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