Sundance Film Festival 2024: Frida Takes Documentary to New Heights

In college, one of my required readings was an illustrated volume by Lauren Redniss, which detailed the biographical details and discoveries of Marie and Pierre Curie. The book was a fascinating portrait of the scientists, and took a very technical story to beautiful new heights with graphic, fluorescent imagery. I still flip through its pages simply for the beauty from time to time. 

The documentary Frida, directed by Carla Gutierrez, debuted in Sundance’s U.S. Documentary division, took a similar approach. However, rather than portraying scientific discovery with unexpected beauty, the film took the already beautiful and complex life of famed painter Frida Kahlo and gave life to her well-known work, infusing her takes on beauty into the biographical format of documentary. 

How, you may ask? With authenticity and animation. 

The documentary script was comprised of compiled entries in the voices of friends, lovers, and from Frida herself. Much of the story of Kahlo’s life was told in her own words, drawn verbatim from her own illustrated diaries, allowing the painter’s innermost thoughts to become the soundtrack to her art repertoire, which this film’s production team brought to vibrant life with intuitive animation. 

Every era of Frida’s life got a dedicated visual backing, whether it was historic photographs from that time (each imbued with a bit of beauty and liveliness through tactful colorization), never-before-seen sketches from Kahlo’s diary pages or a reimagined, galvanized version of one of her many instantly-recognisable works of art. 

The documentary tactilely presents hallmark moments in Kahlo’s life through art, from the horrific bus crash that started her trademark self-portraiture when she became bedridden, to a miscarriage that shook her from heavily Rivera-influenced collections back into her own surrealist style. 

This unmatched, imaginative format taken on by Gutierrez brought a new life to the possibilities within the documentary world, delivering reimagined beauty to the biography of a breathtaking woman. 

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