Chevolution is a remarkable documentary, fully polished, accessible and absolutely assured in its execution. It is a Che film with a difference that, appearing after pictures like The Motorcycle Diaries and the two installments of Steven Soderbergh's Che, significantly manages to circumnavigate the well-trodden aspects of his biography, history and politics - instead focusing on the story of a single image, the famous photograph, and eventual poster, Guerrillero Heroico.
Starting off as a dual narrative, that of the photographer and the revolutionary, Chevolution speeds through a heavily condensed version of Che's life, and the Cuban revolution, as well as the life of Alberto Korda, the man who, after a long period of Batista-era excess and fashion photography, became a key photojournalist in the early years of the Republic - eventually snapping the famous image at a memorial service in Havana. While most of this has been covered before, it is displayed well, through interviews with a handful of witnesses, colleagues and experts, like Korda's daughter, Che expert Jon Lee Anderson and, most entertainingly, contemporary Cuban photographers, whose anecdotes and insight give this slight retreading an edge and distinction over the more filmic depictions - such as the tidbit that Korda was required to harvest sugar cane for a week before being allowed to photograph Che.
It is also crucial groundwork, as the film soon casts its net wide, taking in the photograph's own history and cultural significance. In the process, it covers the image's dissemination, through a poster printed by Italian radical and publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, its publication in the Paris Match periodical, its subsequent use in protest marches, and the iconic re-appropriation of the image by artist Jim Fitzpatrick. A parade of talking heads, from Fitzpatrick to Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, discuss the significance of the image, in various settings, be it sociological, political, countercultural, artistic, and vapidly consumerist. Most surprisingly, just as the film seems to be too light in its touch, it shifts gear, adding discordance and complexity to the mix - revealing the white-washing of Che's negative aspects, and violent methods, by his absorption into popular culture. It also manages to cut to the heart of the confusion implicit in his adoption by a less aggressive, more pacifistic form of late 20th century revolution, and the radical interpretations of his raw idealism and public persona by a variety of subcultures and movements. Equally, the issue of copyright is raised, revealing that Korda, and his estate, seemingly victims of the aggressive appropriation of his photograph, have made moves to register the image's copyright, and have sued certain users of the image in the past - including Absolut, Swatch and Rage Against the Machine.
Directors Trisha Ziff and Luis Lopez have created a film that is fast-paced, entertaining and engaging, that zips along with quick cuts, flashy montages and plenty of stylistic quirks - unsurprising, given Lopez's background working on other recent classic documentaries as Shut Up and Sing and King of Kong. However, they are building on a firm foundation; basing the film on Ziff's own book and touring exhibition, Che Guevara: Revolutionary & Icon, they have amassed a staggering amount of interview material, archive footage (both still and moving picture) and Che-related designs (either artistic or commercial) for this project. This means that, after the film, propelled by its rock music soundtrack, has washed over you, it reveals itself, in retrospect, to be a wonderfully dense documentary - its 86 minutes tightly packed with a wealth of political, historical, artistic and sociological information. That it does this while still allowing room for complexity, conflict and ambiguity, is testament to the great talent that has gone into its creation.