Though it’s not Hollywood or New York City, Miami is blessed with a distinctive film scene. One group of filmmakers that wave the Miami flag with all its weirdness — as well as its profundity — is the Borscht Corporation. And Independent Ethos has paired up with them to bring you a screening event led by this film critic, with the blessings of Borscht co-founder, Lucas Leyva. In an effort to introduce the foreigners in that land north of Miami (i.e. Broward County) to the work of Borscht Corp., I will present 10 of what I think are the greatest short films Borscht has ever produced, including works by such directors as Amy Seimetz, Jillian Mayer and Oscar-winner Barry Jenkins, among others. Proceeds from ticket sales as well as a silent auction featuring works from prominent Miami artists will benefit this site to allow us to buy more digital space for more routine local coverage, helping us fulfill our Knight Arts Challenge grant. It will also benefit Choose954, a Broward-based organization dedicated to revitalizing the area from a cultural perspective through art, music and tech. The Borscht Corporation is our subject, and what a rich subject it has been if you note by searching for mentions on this website.
Borscht was founded by Leyva and Andrew Hevia, a pair of friends who met at the New World School of Arts in Miami and were key to making Moonlight happen (Oscar preview: Borscht, Moonlight and ‘the power of Miami’s filmmaking community’). Over the course of its founding, back in 2004, Borscht has held 10 film festivals showcasing Miami talent or visiting filmmakers who use Miami talent. They got in trouble during the 8th installment of their festival with Miami Heat star player Chris Bosh for an animated film by Bleeding Palm (watch it below). Bosh filed legal papers to keep it from being released. Earlier this year, at the 10th installment of the festival Leyva, self-described Minister of the Interior of Borscht, had to make a stage appearance at the festival’s main event to keep from being arrested backstage. Though enfant terrible is a worn out cliché in the film world, Borscht prides itself on shaking things up and sometimes that means being confrontational.
As vital as some of this seems, it remains peripheral. None of this would matter if the work they help produce were superficial. It is not. We here at Independent Ethos were granted access by Leyva to consider the full Borscht catalog of output over the 13 years the organization’s existence to present a “Best of Borscht,” per se. With numerous freelanced articles for the Miami New Times and pieces right here on Borscht, this writer has seen behind their curtain of production. The group is composed of hard workers even if they sometimes work frighteningly close to deadline and occasionally present works in progress, including some that still remain unfinished.
During this relationship, I have stumbled across some breathtaking work. I wrote an in-depth critique of three standout films produced for the festival’s tenth installment for the Miami Rail (EXISTENTIALISM, TRANSCENDENCE, AND OBLIVION AT BORSCHT DIEZ: THREE SHORT FILM REVIEWS). As I note in the review, the name of that year’s festival is a play on “Borscht Dies.” Festival organizers hyped the theme of the festival coming to an end. Leyva has often wondered aloud about his legitimacy, continuing something dynamic he began as a student with Hevia. Looking at his oeuvre, a theme stands out, from the philosophizing corals of “The Coral Reef Are Dreaming Again,” a collaboration with frequent Borscht contributors Coral Morphologic, to his latest with Mayer, “Kaiju Bunraku,” about a couple struggling to carry on in a world where giant monsters regularly wreck their house. Destruction/creation and death/rebirth seem to be an obsession of his. And, as time wears on, he as well as his founder, who happened to be one of the producers to take home a best picture Oscar, grows older. Though still in his 30s, the filmmaker has wondered if the vital often irreverent youthful quality of Borscht comes across as relevant.
Though Hevia — who we first met five years ago at a suburban Starbucks to talk about a local art documentary he directed — is currently producing a movie in Hong Kong, Leyva certainly hasn’t stopped making movies in Miami under Borscht. The scuttlebutt in the filmmaking community is that he’s out on a speedboat shooting a feature film in Biscayne Bay. The boat, named Layin’ Pipe, can be seen in Arcade Fire’s video for “Signs of Life,” which Leyva co-directed with his frequent collaborator, the much celebrated Miami multi-media artist Mayer (Miami Artist Jillian Mayer on Slumpies and Her Sundance Film ‘Kaiju Bunraku’).
Mayer now assists Leyva in co-running Borscht alongside head of operations Lauren Monzon. It’s a tricky thing to say Borscht is dead when it’s certainly a huge name in the Miami film scene, but we at IndieEthos are gonna play along by taking a lead from their last festival’s Spanglish play on “Borscht Dies.” After all, there’s nothing like death to take stock via a retrospective, and as I have noted death often plays a great role in the filmmakers’ productions. Not to mention the fact that this writer is often deeply fascinated by the theme, himself (Take for example, these two reviews: Film Review: ‘The Great Beauty’ earns it’s title by looking beyond the superficial; Béla Tarr’s ‘The Turin Horse,’ the first masterpiece film of 2012). I was first blown away by Borscht via the Leyva/Mayer collab “#Postmodem,” a short I saw during the Borscht 8 Film Festival in 2012. I fell in love as soon as I saw the children in the playground matter-of-factly stating that they will some day die, using phrases like, “One day, I will shed this mortal coil.” I consider it one of the greatest movies shot in Miami — just below Moonlight (The Ten Greatest Movies Shot in Miami).
The number one movie in that list, which Miami New Times asked me to write, is by Miami performance artist, Antonia Wright. I first saw “Suddenly We Jumped” at a solo exhibition by the artist at Spinello Projects, in early 2014. The looped two-channel digital movie then reemerged as part of an amazing group exhibition by only female artists during Art Basel 2014 called Auto Body, which I wrote both a preview about (“Auto Body” Takes On Gender Inequality in the Art World) and a review about (Women-Led “Auto Body” Explores Breadth of Human Emotion Through Film, Performance) for Miami New Times. “Suddenly We Jumped” last showed on the big screen in the middle of Borscht Diez as — what I think — was a sort of test of audience patience due to its silence and hypnotic quality. For me it’s a great primer to pay attention. This is what art demands, an open mind, patience and a shift toward an alternate mentality. That’s why I will be opening the screening of “Borscht is Dead” with this silent, mesmerizing three-minute short. After the program, Wright will join me on stage to discuss it during a Q&A session with other fellow filmmakers showing that night. In posts coming up this week on Independent Ethos, I plan to reveal the rest of the films I am showing at the event with thoughts on each one.
What I want to leave you with is why I love about Borscht, even though not all of its films are hits. In the overall scheme, it is not just how freakishly entertaining their short films often are, but how — with heroic humor — they stare into the abyss of the existential dread most people suppress. This humor lightens the burden of life with its questions of meaning and impending concerns with the grim inevitable. Still, it never diminishes the power of these themes. These filmmakers are as real and honest as any unjaded independent filmmaker you will meet (check out my interviews with some of them in PureHoney Magazine). I’m honored that Leyva has entrusted me with access to the many films the organization has produced over much of its 14 years of existence. I’ve only chosen 10 of these movies, but I hope it gives wide-ranging insight into the creative force that is Miami’s most important group of filmmakers.
Borscht is Dead screens Oct. 19, 6 PM – 10:30 PM, at Savor Cinema, 503 SE 6th St, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301. Tickets are $13 and $25. The silent auction/reception begins at 6 p.m. and the films start 7:30 p.m. with a Q&A with the filmmakers after. Get tickets by following this link. And if you can’t come, please donate to us, follow this link and hit the “DONATE” button via PayPal.