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Life and Times of Frida Kahlo - Feature Story

The identities of Frida Kahlo are many: Mexican, woman, painter, wife, lover, accident survivor, Communist, teacher, and cultural icon. Most of what is known about the uncompromising artist is the story of her life as told through her self-portraits. "The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo" goes beyond her art to frame Kahlo's bold life and career within distinct historical movements.

At the age of 18, Kahlo's life was forever changed when her body was shattered in a bus accident. She began painting while confined to her bed during recovery, and among her first paintings were the beginnings of her signature self-portraits of which she created more than 55 during her lifetime.

Kahlo once said, "I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint always whatever passes through my head, without any other consideration."

Kahlo's "reality" is best understood in relation to the political and social forces of her time. She lived through Mexican revolts and revolutions, the rise of communism, and two world wars. She loved and lived with prominent artists and thinkers of her time: husband Diego Rivera and lovers Leon Trotsky, Isamu Noguchi and Nickolas Muray.

Renewed popularity of Kahlo's art in recent years has made her very personal work accessible to millions of people. Despite a tempestuous lifestyle that is still shocking by some standards (she was an unapologetic Communist who had an open marriage and love affairs with women and men alike), Kahlo was honored by the U.S. Postal Service in 2001 with a commemorative postage stamp. Her paintings fetch record amounts at auction, and a 2002 movie starring Salma Hayek reflects the colorful drama of her life.

Award-winning filmmaker Amy Stechler of Daylight Films (who co-produced, wrote and edited many of the early films of Ken Burns) was granted unprecedented access to photographs, paintings, newsreels and home movies. Stechler's research includes more than 20 interviews with principals in Kahlo's life including Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes 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?"

Rita Moreno - the Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy Award-winning actress - narrates the film. Mexican singer Lila Downs is the voice of Kahlo. 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 90-minute high-definition film is a production of Daylight Films and WETA Washington, D.C., in association with Latino Public Broadcasting. 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.

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