On Wednesday February 22, a vortex took shape in Miami known as Borscht Diez, the 10th edition of Borscht Film Festival, which created ripples around the world. It started with the end. A funeral pyre where Borscht’s 13 years of past work (via hard drives) was eulogized and then promptly lit and burnt to ashes. The festival closed on Sunday, February 26 with a major phoenix rising boom for Borscht – whose mission is to put authentic Miami narratives on the map -when locals at the African Cultural Heritage Center watched in exhilaration as hometown set and filmmaker Barry Jenkins’ film Moonlight took home three Oscars; Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, Best Adapted Screenplay, and major key win: Best Picture.
For those who don’t know – Borscht Corp is a non profit and artist collective I talk about frequently on my blog because since 2011 their films have been selected at the top festivals around the world. The organism spawned around 2004 and has multiplied into a rising number of unique and unapologetic artists who collaborate across platforms in film, digital and art projects. Borscht’s Day One funder and to this day is The Knight foundation. Borscht represents a wild, pop and savvy storytelling community who sneak relevant cultural perspectives and social/geo/political/tech-driven commentary. When it comes to American Latino representation at festivals – something I talk about a lot on this blog, Borscht nearly always appears in my WTF is Latino at xyz festival and they found that last year at a major film festival, 50% of US fiction shorts by Latinos were Borscht commissions.
Two of the chief architects of this nuclear reactor, Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva, recently gained the support of Time Warner’s One Fifty which invests in creators, with the goal of creating a pipeline into the entertainment divisions who recognize the need for fresh content in order to stay relevant and reach younger socially connected audiences. Mayer and Leyva have collaborated on many projects as writers/directors/producers and with One Fifty are working on a few exciting things TBA. Their most recent short Kaiju Bunkaru premiered at Sundance, and they are actively developing their first feature set in Cuba as writers/directors. The partners in crime have also used Time Warner’s support to continue to spearhead their work of promoting and supporting other up and coming Miami artists. A few of these include the Meza brothers, Bernardo Britto, Alexa Haas, Monica Peña, Celia Rowlson-Hall, Amy Seimetz, Ahol Sniffs Glue, Jonathan David Kane, Julian Yuri Rodriguez, and Giancarlo Loffredo.
A typical film festival is usually evaluated by the strength of its film selection, but this ain’t no typical film festival – its a whole experience, and one that is curated off the cuff yet quite tight. The 70 something odd number of features, shorts and videos comprising the program is driven by Borscht made films, Miami related stories, and natives. Its audacious vision is pretty organically glued with near future narratives and primal and cosmic evocations – always with a daring, and often underrepresented point of view.
Screenings were held at three main theater venues; The Miami Beach Cinematheque, New World Center, Olympia Theater – which when taken over by Borscht surely broadened those institutions’ reach and seemed to take on a new feel. Outside these established venues, screens were also popped up, intervening public spaces; on the water, in the streets, off a beaten path of an island, on walls inside and outside. Just like screens were
unleashed, so were stories unconfined to said screens by weaving thematic narratives around each screening event. Like being handed a cacti to accompany you to a film about a conquistador and being told that the questions will be taken strictly from the cacti. Or the animation bookends at the main film event where sea anemones from the future (fake/future news reel tells us that sea level rise has buried Miami underwater) presented the program while making fun of the blip that was humans and the rubble we left behind that we called “art”. And then there are the personal experiences in participating that creates yet another story – like the time I kayaked by myself at night a mile out to an undisclosed island location for a screening, thinking that if I flipped over into the lukewarm sea the temperature would be nice but rubbing up on something would give probably stop my heart.
Other big events included Coral Orgy, an immersive psychedelic projection by local marine biologists/artists Coral Morphologic with a live score performed by Animal Collective, a vogue ball by Catwalk Miami that was EVERYTHING, an amusing opera piece by Joseph Keckler, performances by Hyperbody, Poor Girrrl and Miami’s very own bad bitch no-nanna-hoe Trina – and that’s just what I witnessed firsthand. Of the VR stuff I flexed my empathy muscles being that I embodied Dubya’s body – naked in a tub, happily painting- thanks to an installation by Tenderclaws.
I moderated a panel called Warn a Brother with Terence Nance about how independent artist like him can preserve their voice while transitioning from independent to working with studios. Like MayerLeyva, Terence is working with One Fifty who made it possible for him to shoot his pilot Random Acts of Flyness for HBO. ‘Mobilize don’t Satiriz’e was one of a few gems that I heard Terence say about his self-expression. Tamir Muhammad, the artist development engineer responsible for bringing them in is also working with creators like Young Guru, Lemon Anderson and Melonie Diaz. Tamir moderated another panel called Code Switching your way to the top which included my homegirl, Dilcia Barrera, LACMA Film Curator and Sundance shorts programmer, and Walter Newman from Adult Swim. The convo was about how these cats succeed in an industry dominated by wealthy straight white men.
FILMS: A few highlights. For the full list of cool crazy films that played go here
Miami native David Fenster’s Opuntia is an experimental film inspired by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s Relación. And is narrated by a cactus. The film explores spiritual transformation by way of the fascinating and little known Spanish conquistador turned
shaman during his 8 year expedition on which he lost hundreds of men, was stripped of everything he had, wandered around naked and miraculously survived – in part by eating the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. Fenster visits the spots Cabeza de Vaca supposedly journeyed from St. Petersburg, Florida to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua and weaves in a psychic medium’s point of view as well as his own personal narrative by including his father and his battle with his health. A profound and existential adventure this was a work in progress screening. Watch out for it.
Manila Death Squad by Dean C. Marcial
A young tenacious reporter insists on a sit-down and plays Kings with the temperamental leader of a brutal assassin group in this kitschy Filipino action film. Dean is currently working on a digital series called Midnight Service with his Calavera co-horts regular Borscht producer Brett Potter. They previously made a short film called Sea Devil – a total masterpiece. Watch here.
[Cries in Spanish] By Giancarlo Loffredo
A young girl sings a song in a Latin cafe. The vibes and jaw dropping twist on this one. From the dude that brought us Stripper Wars.
Body Heals by Annelise Ogaard
A dispatch from a plastic surgery vacation, reflecting on beauty in the moment of metamorphosis after the knife goes in, but before the bandages come off. Remarkably transparent and unusual in that usually people hide themselves during their cocoon cosmetic post surgery phase. Brooklyn based creator and Vice contributor Annelise’s pov is about flaunting one’s regeneration.
Great Choice by Robin Comisar
A Borscht commissioned short film about a woman who gets stuck in a red lobster commerial. The wacky premise anchored by an insanely real problem comes from Ghost Robot director Comisar who has fun doing stuff with Waverly Films.
One Doggone Summer by Julian Yuri Rodriguez
Niño bueno and MTV no seasons star Julian, channels his dog lover and sentimental side with this sweet, imaginative story about a boy wants to make sure his doggy goes to heaven.
Agua Viva by Alexa Haas
Alexa co-directed the short film, The Glove with Bernardo Britto that debuted last year and is still making the rounds. Her solo effort is about a manicurist in Miami expressing her inner desires, feelings, and daydreams through a language she cannot speak.
My experience with #BorschtDiez was seriously a portal of senses and provocation. It sparked dialogue around sex and gender, and somehow made time, space and matter truly feel relative. If you missed it, well you missed out – this time around. It always comes back around. Til then tune in and follow Borscht’s unique transmission from the 305; Follow @borschtcorp on the socials and head to their website. Shout out to Marilyn Loddi for the on-the-scene photos.