Let’s face it; a lot of people who enjoy movies tend to shy away from documentaries. If you are surfing through the myriad of cable channels late at night most people are more likely to settle on an action flick than a documentary. This is a shame since this type of film usually provides a view into an aspect of life that you most likely never considered before. A documentary can inform while it is entertaining the audience a spark many interesting conversations. In recent years some film makers have made their careers with cleaver documentaries about recent political and social events. The format can do a lot more though. In the documentary ‘KordaVision’ the audience is brought back in time to the turbulent revolution in Cuba. We have all had the usual history lessons and know names like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara but most Americans are not as well informed as possible about this chapter of history. This film provides images and sounds taken at the time the events were unfolding giving a rare glimpse into the rise of Communism just 90 miles off the shores of the State of Florida. It also provides an intimate look at the man who was there photographing the men who would change history. His photographs included the icon portraits of Castro and Guevara; one with his ever present cigar the other wearing the beret that he made famous. This movie is far from just a series of images paraded across the screen. The focus is on the man behind them and how he managed to find himself in this violent revolution. One thing that needs to be noted at this point; like many documentaries this one comes with a preset point of view. At times the director, Hector Cruz Sandoval moves extremely close to hero worship of Korda. It is not a balanced piece showing both sides of the story. It is important to realize and understand this since there are still many people in this country who fled the Castro regime and who have lost family and loved ones during the violent rise to power of the Communist party in Cuba.
This is very much a freshman work for Sandoval. He takes on the jobs of writer, director, producer and cinematographer for this his very first film. He states openly that this film was intended as an intimate portrait of Korda made through the window through which the audience can see Cuba and its people. He acknowledges the tribulations of the Cuban people and their hope for the future. Sandoval offers this film not only as a view of Korda but how he represents the Hispanic artist. Korda was a man of humble beginnings with incredible talent and the eye to capture images on his film that were astounding. Even if the subjects of his most famous photographs were men who inspired violence the images themselves are breathtaking in their composition. Korda worked as an assistant to a photographer where he learned many of the tools of his future craft. Later he became the photographer for the Cuba newspaper, Revolución beginning his ties to the people who would change the country.
At the start of the film Sandoval gives a little personal background about himself. He grew up as a Roman Catholic in a Mexican-American barrio in the late sixties. One of the big issues of the day was the Viet Nam war. In 1969 his uncle was drafted and sent to the war. Sandoval shows images of the war such as American soldiers dragging corpses to their graves. He continues with a comment that when his uncle returned he knew that war was not the answer. His uncle became a war protester in the streets of Los Angles. His family was caught up in the Chicano movement working towards social change. Very important to the cause was the use of iconic images to rally and unify the people. Among them were the Virgin of Guadalupe, Emiliano Zapata and Poncho Villa where all displayed and became a focus of the movement. Also important in this gallery of images was Cesar Chavez who worked for the rights of immigrant laborers and Che Guevara who was fighting for the working class in Cuba. This was the first time Sandoval saw the image of Guevara in his neighborhood. That image came from a photograph made by Korda. He goes on to talk about a anti-war demonstrations where the police ‘denied them the right to peaceful assembly’. This may seem at first to be a very self centered approach to a documentary about a man barely mentioned in this prologue. It is actually extremely fair of Sandoval to tell the audience right up front where his loyalties lie and let us in on his motivations in life. This is a biased film and to his credit Sandoval makes no pretenses otherwise. Twenty eight years later he was assigned a job to record the Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cuba. Once again he was struck by the images around him. He was standing in a crowd of one million people celebrating mass in the Plaza of the revolution. Off to one side was a ten story high portrait of Che from that same Korda photo. On that day Sandoval met a ‘true Cuban artist and made a new friend’, Korda. He was born Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez but most knew him simply as Korda. For three years Sandoval went around the island country with Korda.
For most of the time many of us grew up; the fifties and sixties, communism was the ultimate horror. The McCarthy hearings ruined lives in order to protect us from this menace. Wars where fought and financially supported to thwart the spread of communism. Now, only Cuba and China remain as communist countries so we can say that our way of living won out. Still, it is fascinating to look at the people of Cuba through the eyes of their most famous artist. This film is heavily invested in Castro’s rhetoric but ultimately it is the people of the country that are the stars. What is very surprising is how affable Korda comes off here. Even taking into account the halo effect that Sandoval instills around the man Korda seems like a down to earth sort of fellow without pretensions of greatness. The film is certain to draw a lot of controversy for the glowing manner it portrays Castro and Guevara. It is nearly impossible to take the photographs of Korda, as amazing as they are, completely out of context of the violence these men promoted. In all this is a film that will make you think and talk and that is the ultimate goal of any documentary. You will have a different perspective even if you in the final analysis reject it.
The film comes to DVD through Anchor Bay. They are committed to all forms of cinema and this is just one example of the unusual and compelling works they provide to the home audience.