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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]



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.