Saturday night at the Arsht Center in downtown Miami, the main event of the quasi-annual Borscht Film Festival proved triumphant on several accounts. For Borscht Corp. itself, the program turned out to be its most ambitious to date. The evening boasted nearly three hours of impressively high-quality short films in one of the city’s fanciest venues, with all of the films referring back to Miami in some way. What’s more, thanks to sponsorship and grant money — much of it from the generous Knight Foundation — this year’s slate also featured a number of productions specifically commissioned for the event.
While a standby line for free tickets wrapped around the block, the majority of the people nearly filling the center’s Ziff Ballet Opera House happily forked over $25 to support the evening’s programming. This, of course, pointed towards another victory — turns out, people in Miami will actually turn over money to support ambitious cultural projects, even when they’re all partied out from Art Basel. Go figure!
As others have noted, this eighth edition of the Borscht fest main event offered the strongest program to date. The 20 films alternated between high-concept experiments, straightforward narratives, and shorter pieces that fell more on the video art than theatrical film side of things. The beauty of the whole structure, though, was that with the longest pieces topping out at 14 minutes, if you didn’t love something, another, more interesting work would come along shortly. And while locals may consider Borscht to be inveterate jokers, there was some serious thinking and technical finesse behind most of the work. Here are some highlights from the evening:
Best Period Re-enactment:
Miami 1996, by Nick Corirossi, was a pure nostalgia trip that probably only locals would get. Structured mostly as grainy, found video footage from a house party in Kendall or Hialeah or wherever, it was a fast, music-driven set of blurry recollections. If you went to house parties in the city any time between then and, well, now, because things never change — every possible detail was here, from a shitty backyard keg to graffiti bros practicing hand styles in sketch books like it was art class. Wardrobe stylist Stefanie del Papa’s costumes were particularly on point, from the protagonist’s striped polo to his would-be chonga conquests’ tight midriff tops.
Best Treatment of Deep Existential Issues With Humor:
Lucas Leyva and Jillian Mayer teamed again up for #POSTMODEM, the most high-concept segment of the evening and one of the best. Based loosely on concepts put forth by Ray Kurzweil and other futurists, a group of loosely connected shorts-within-a-short explored the notion of technological dependency and singularity. Is living in the real world even worth it any more? Is there a way to preserve our conscience in the cloud? Can we discuss these issues with a viral-video-worthy music video? The answer to all of these, in the film, was yes. The film’s “Megamegaupload” song is this year’s answer to Mayer’s previous viral hit, “I Am Your Grandma.”
Best Arguments Against Irresponsible Development and Gentrification:
At least two shorts here dealt overtly with South Florida’s obsession with development. Places Where We Lived, by Bernardo Britto, combined animation with almost mumblecore-type dialogue in the narrator’s nostalgic, though pained, reminiscence on his childhood in Weston. His childhood home was no longer a home, he pointed out, thanks to a buy-out deal foisted upon his parents — and similar development vultures were raping neighborhoods and memories cross-country.
Eric Mainade’s Crackhead Katana, meanwhile, was a parody movie trailer for, yes, a rock-smoker who takes vengeance in Wynwood, scaring away legal street artists and fighting the encroachment of cutesy shops.
Most Polished Traditional Narrative:
Cuba-born, Wisconsin-based filmmaker Laimir Fano offered Waiting for Berta, a zippy, bittersweet caper following the intersecting lives of two Cuban seniors now living in Miami. Fano presented his last short, Oda a la Pina, at the Tribeca Film Festival, and that short’s cheeky humor returned here. Highlights included a very, very slow-speed car chase down Eighth Street and an eightysomething abuela wielding a gun. The message? Holding a grudge for over 50 years often turns out to be an exercise in futility. (Disclaimer: I previously covered the making of this short here.)
Best Use of a Living Local Treasure:
Pineal Warriors: Supermeng vs. the Annunaki proved to be a sci-fi mini epic as bizarre as you would expect from Otto von Schirach, but it got even better. The movie pitted Otto against evil space geckos, only this time, Otto teamed up with septuagenarian dirty rapper Blowfly. This film also gets extra points for finally setting a space battle at the most appropriate Miami location ever, Coral Castle.
Best Re-Do of a Literature Classic:
Julian Yuri Rodriguez’s C#CKFIGHT played off Dante’s Inferno, and wisely — anyone who crawls around downtown Miami and the Design District already knows that the areas are pretty much their own circles of hell. In Rodriguez’s vision, what looked a lot like club Eve turned instead turned into a sweaty pit full of angry men cheering a particularly brutal, uh, boxing match. The casting here stood out — local promoter Notorious Nastie starred as a gravelly voiced fight inciter, and as for the rest of the actors, well, you have to wonder where on earth (or in hell?) Rodriguez found these people.
Best Flagrant Reinterpretation of Real-Life News Events:
Ronnie Rivera’s animated short, Adventures of Christopher Bosh in the Multiverse, scored itself national hype when the filmmaker and Borscht received a cease-and-desist shortly before the festival. Turns out IRL Heat star Bosh wanted no part of an animated segment that made him out to be a vengeful space prince from another dimension — but too bad. The film screened anyways, and its hilarious, warped story explained everything from the “Miami zombie” incident to Mike Miller’s strange, sudden knack for three-pointers during the NBA post-season.
It’s no wonder the NBA also sent its own cease-and-desist; the final product combined Rivera’s animation with real Heat footage in unexpected, ridiculous ways. Even poor Ronald Poppo, the Miami zombie victim, appeared as a character — turns out he’s a martyr, of sorts. No cows are sacred to Rivera, and wider release of the film would probably be tied up in a legal shit storm, but this was one of the evening’s best.
The Evening’s Minor Disappointment:
Remember the Kickstarter campaign to fund The Voice Thief, an ostensibly Miami-centric collaboration between Adan Jodorowsky and Asia Argento? Well, the project got funded, but the short simply wasn’t done in time, and a trailer aired in its place. What did show was, err, promising — there were over-the-top, baroque settings; vaguely violent/sexual undertones; and darkly dreamy shots. Borscht Corp. says when the film is finally done, they’ll most likely dedicate an evening to its screening.