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Tribeca ’08: Trisha Ziff on “Chevolution”

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04252008_chevolution1.jpgBy Stephen Saito

[For complete coverage of the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, check out IFC’s Tribeca page.]

Che Guevara probably never envisioned his image on a crystal-encrusted T-shirt as he traversed the Cuban countryside with thoughts of political upheaval. But there’s the rub of featuring front and center in the most reproduced photograph of the 20th century.

“Che died, but thousands of Ches were born,” remarks Diana Diaz during “Chevolution,” a documentary making its world premiere in the Encounters section of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Diaz is the daughter of Alberto “Korda” Diaz, a Cuban photographer who took the iconic shot of the revolutionary that originally went unused by the newspaper it was commissioned for and existed only as a print on Korda’s wall. It wasn’t until after Guevara’s death in 1968 that the image called “Guerrillero Heroico” found its way into his memorial service and became the inspiration for protests and pop art the world over. For the past three years, Trisha Ziff has been collecting Che items from around the globe and putting them into a wildly popular exhibition that’s still touring. With the help of “Election” producer Ron Yerxa and co-director Luis Lopez, Ziff decided to turn the exhibit into a film, which serves as a fascinating history of a single snapshot that became the legacy of two men — Guevara and Korda.

How did “Chevolution” come about?

I knew Alberto Korda here in Mexico — when he died, all the obituaries only mentioned this image. They only talked about “Guerillo Heroico.” I thought how strange for somebody to live such a huge and full life as an artist and be remembered for a single image, and what that must do to a person. I had the idea to put together an exhibition with the idea that I would assemble as many different versions of that image that artists have done, that have been done in the history of posters, that are quoted in other photographs and objects, and do an exhibition that was just about the narrative of a single image. It was a real challenge to me — you get your audience into a museum and they’re essentially walking around looking at different versions of the same image again and again in different contexts. Can you sustain somebody’s interest in that for a long period of time as a storyteller? My personal fear was “Oh my God, am I just making a slideshow that’s 90 minutes long?” You can tell it’s a film made by a curator. [laughs]

I found things that just blew my mind and I had to find a way to put them in, and [co-director] Luis Lopez was able to transform that through his graphics. The scholarship and the narrative and the imagery comes from me and I think the pace, the energy, the modernity of it as a documentary comes from him.

04252008_chevolution2.jpg How much of the story did you know beforehand and how much of this was a treasure hunt?

Because I’ve written a book on the subject and done an exhibition, the foundations were there, and because I’m a curator of photography, I have a history of working with photographers, especially in Latin America. I’ve worked with a website called Zone Zero in Mexico, the most visited website of photography in the world, so I put a small ad on Zone Zero for people who’d taken [photographs involving] the Che image. We got pictures back from all over the world. It wasn’t a treasure hunt — t was waiting for the treasure to come in. Finding Tom Morello was a treasure hunt. (laughs) That was hard.

Harder than Gerry Adams [who also appears in the film, along with Gael Garcia Bernal and Antonio Banderas]?

[Adams] is very cultured and that comes from the mural tradition in the north of Ireland. What we wanted to film and didn’t, for a good reason in the end, was on the 40th anniversary of the death of Che, they painted a mural in Derry in the west coast of Ireland. We were all set to go and film this community painting the mural, then they chose to do it with a different image, not the Korda image, so that went out the window. But Gerry knew Jim Fitzpatrick [one of the artists most responsible for proliferating Korda’s Che image]. I thought that was amazing, but he’s a very rounded, well-read, curious person, so it’s not surprising. Few politicians talk, obviously, about art. The crossover’s not there. I wish more did.

How receptive was the Diaz (Korda) family to a film?

Diana Diaz and the estate are represented in Los Angeles by a gallerist called Daryl Couturier, who represents a lot of Cuban artists and he’s very trusted in Cuba and I think a combination of Daryl being there through this film as the voice of the family because they obviously couldn’t have come to the States and left Cuba now because of the embargo.

There’s a history of trust because Diana Diaz knew me, she knew my work on other exhibitions and I live in Mexico. We’ve had consistent dialogue over five or six years. That’s not to say she’s liked everything that I’ve done. She is, which I value immensely, very respectful of a vision that isn’t necessarily her own of her father’s image, and I put images into the show that she really doesn’t like. It’s hard for her to see [something] that she feels disrespects the history of that image, either taken to a place of humor or maybe used in a sexual way. She is appalled by those things and it’s a stretch for her to feel comfortable allowing me to do my work, so it’s a complex relationship but it’s based on a lot of discussion and.

04252008_chevolution3.jpgIt may be purely coincidental, but the timing of this precludes Steven Soderbergh’s Che biopics — is there something about right now that lends itself for reflection about Che?

I think it’s totally relevant. It’s a Che wave, no? I think it comes back to another question, which is why do we need heroes? What is it that’s so appealing that we’re seduced into hearing the story again and again in all these different versions, or to wear it as a t-shirt, or to have a poster on our wall? There’s something very seductive about him, or the fiction of him, and I think it’s because we live in a time where people are lost, where there is no leadership, where life isn’t about making choices because you believe in them.

I think we live in a diminished moment, from that point of view, where there isn’t the idealism that existed in the ’60s — people really had this notion that they could make changes. We’ve lost something, so whether it’s that we revisit him in a real way or it’s this sentimentality of revisiting something that gave people hope at a certain time, I think there’s a seduction. We need leadership. Within that image is this desire, this hope, and it doesn’t go away.

Finally, out of all the Che items you’ve accumulated, which is your favorite?

I have Che matryoshka dolls from Russia and I love them because they’re different iconic photographs of Che — there’s obviously the Korda Che, but then there’s the René Burri Che — he took the very famous one of Che smiling with a cigar. Then inside that, there’s a Che, a Christo — Che as Christ. And then you go right to the little tiny matryoshka doll in the center and it’s just a candle. It’s just an image of light, an image of hope. So I love those. I bought them on eBay. I think, as a curator, eBay is brilliant because you can search and get extraordinary artifacts. I have a fantastic packet of cigarettes from Barcelona where the Che image on the package is so distorted, such a bad version that’s it’s brilliant. It’s hilarious. And people bring me stuff all the time. I mean, I’m kind of Che’d out.

[Photos: “Chevolution,” Red Envelope Entertainment, 2008]

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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