At the World Cinema Showcase, Che Guevara lives on. By JACOB POWELL.

OPENING with archival footage of a string of revolutions from around the globe, right off the bat Chevolution concerns itself with more than just its eponymous subject. Not so much a documentary about the actual Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, it is more a look at the entity we have fashioned him into: a symbol of violence and unethical guerrilla justice to some, and of hope and freedom from oppression to others. Directors Luis Lopez and Trisha Ziff explore the way in which iconic images and people become items of cultural consumption, adapted to help give expression to our own varied array of ideologies.

The documentary focuses on the particular iconic image of Che that can be seen on posters, walls, t-shirts and even handbags worldwide; exploring its various meanings, the uses to which it has been put, and looking at the part the image has played in transforming ‘Che’ from an historical being into an abstract ideological concept. We are exposed to the chain of events, involving disparate individuals from all over the globe, which saw an isolated photograph morph into a poster image and ultimately into the stylised silhouette graphic we are familiar with today. The film paints the backdrop to the image via the history of the photographer Alberto Korda – high living Cuban fashion photographer turned socialist politico – as well as the original context in which the picture was taken. The directors wisely prefix their film with a brief overview of Che’s life, achievements and failures – supplying some of the context often lacking from his posthumous public ‘persona’ and helping their audience to filter their own perceptions of the public Che with facts about the life of Che the man.

The directors do an adept job at constructing an innovative take on this well worn subject. The timing of the project seems pretty fortuitous considering the boost in interest that will be supplied by Steven Soderbergh’s epic biopic duo of films on the life of Che (The Argentine and Guerrilla) coming soon to our shores. Splicing archival footage with recent interview material the filmmakers highlight the array of modern day interpretations of this mythical persona whilst also clarifying the context from which the historical person has been removed. Chevolution includes a smattering of celebrity comment – probably in part to increase the film’s saleability (and why not?) – from various actors, musicians, and political figures of either Latino descent (Antonio Banderas, Gael García Bernal) or known political activists (Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin). Across the board these celebrities give insightful and intelligent comment on a subject they have obviously thought about outside of this film project.

Chevolution offers a nice balance of perspectives, with people from the various extremes: from saint worship to bitter hatred. Che’s dead body – there is footage from just after his death in Bolivia proving he was actually killed – is likened to the body of Christ by a number of the Latin interviewees and some of the historian commentators. Others label him “terrorist” and man of violence and, paradoxically, neither of these representations seems ill fitting. The directors even traverse the dynamic range within these extreme ideological positions. The interviewees include those for whom Che symbolises hope and freedom – without any understanding of who he actually was or any real sense of the context in which his life was lived – as well as some of impoverished and disempowered Latin Americans who were Che’s motivation for taking up arms. Likewise the ‘player haters’ in this documentary come in several shapes and degrees of historical/political awareness.

Lopez and Ziff illustrate that, although public opinion of the man may be polarised, almost all agree that he is ‘public property’; that he ‘belongs to the people’ – to be exploited as the user sees fit for financial gain and/or political/ideological credibility (and by inference this mindset extends to other iconic images/personas). The directors question without doling out ham-fisted judgements; as a viewer you need to analyse the various viewpoints and form your own.

No matter how you view the legacy and life of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara there is no denying the power and ubiquity of his image in the world. Chevolution is a smart visual essay on rise of the Che myth and a great case study on this particular human phenomenon of taking what we want from someone’s life story and transferring our hope and needs onto them also.