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Che Guevara and the Sundance Kid

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

Benicio Del Toro stars in Steven Soderbergh's epic examination of fallen revolutionary Che Guevara.

(Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner)

Despite the box-office fanfare and widespread critical acclaim that have greeted his best-known offerings, including 1998’s Out of Sight and 2000’s potent one-two punch of Traffic and Erin Brockovich, director Steven Soderbergh may never live down the success of his then-controversial breakthrough, 1989’s Sex, Lies and Videotape.

Winner of the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Audience Award at Sundance, Soderbergh’s bruising contemplation of self-denial, artless deception and emotional exhibitionism not only earned the director a reputation for fiercely intelligent, unconventional storytelling, it helped put Robert Redford’s annual celebration of independent film on the map.

Just don’t expect Soderbergh, 46, to indulge in flights of nostalgia.

“I’m not a big fan of looking backward,” he says. “The movie wasn’t designed to be sexually shocking at the time, and nowadays the Internet allows everyone the chance to identify and celebrate their niche desires. Nothing is stigmatized.”

While Soderbergh doubts that Sex, Lies and Videotape would cause much of a stir today, his reputation as a daring filmmaker remains justifiably intact. During the two decades that have elapsed since his Sundance coup, the Atlanta native has scored his share of epic paydays (courtesy of Ocean’s Eleven and its two sequels) but has remained staunchly dedicated to more challenging endeavors such as Bubble, an experimental drama shot entirely in HD with a cast of non-actors, and his latest, a four-and-a-half hour biography of slain revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Che, which stars Benicio Del Toro as the film’s titular protagonist, may represent the director’s greatest challenge to audiences weaned on homogenized shoot-’em-ups and gross-out comedies that cater to the shortest of attention spans. But for a seasoned auteur who doesn’t measure success in terms of domestic grosses, it seemed a risk worth taking.

“I’m trying to be smart about spending money on some of my stranger ideas,” says Soderbergh, whose future projects include The Girlfriend Experience, another low-budget indie featuring porn star Sasha Grey and a supporting cast of non-professionals, and a 3-D rock opera based on the life of Cleopatra. “But the roadshow tour we’ve done for Che has proven there’s an audience for a different kind of moviegoing experience.

“We were selling out shows in New York and L.A. every night, and we have all the time in the world to take the movie to cities and college towns across the country. We’re not attached to some publicity machine, and we’ve got no money because no major studio was going to come near a project like this. But that’s the liberating thing about having no money. There’s no rush. We can promote all we want. It’s how making a movie should feel.”

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