Miami is an odd place for filmmaking. Stories are frequently set there, but mostly shot in other cities, with a fake all-caps MIAMI sign cut in to explain exactly where you are. Of its few genuinely local feature productions, the most memorable is certainly Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Best Picture Oscar winner Moonlight. But that film, with all its South Florida beauty, may not have existed if it weren’t for a local festival and filmmaking collective. Founded in 2004, Borscht Corp. has always had a clear vision to prove that Miami filmmakers exist, and also deserve both funding and a spotlight. The short films they’ve produced live on in numerous ways, whether through going viral or winning prizes at festivals like Sundance and SXSW. The collective also throws what could easily be called one of the weirdest film festivals in the country.
For their 2017 festival, titled “Borscht Diez” as a joke about the tenth edition signaling its end, Borscht staged everything from a funeral in the Everglades to Coral Morphologic’s Coral Orgy, a feature-length film showcase of coral reproduction which was projected on five screens with a live score by Animal Collective. This year, branded as a rebirth for the festival and Miami itself as Boscht 0, the collective has not only come back, but has also partnered with both locals and visitors to bring a number of ideas to life. “Borscht Diez was our death and funeral, Borscht 0 is our rebirth,” chairman Brett Potter tells Hyperallergic. “We’ve resurrected elements of the departed festivals — the Nite Owl theater, our main night of shorts at the Arsht Center — but we are always exploring new spaces to have conversations with our work.”
Indeed, the festival brought back the Nite Owl, Miami’s repertory cinema that closed earlier this year, as a downtown pop-up appropriately called the Firebird Theater, screening a unique assortment of programs. Opening night kicked off with an unexpected classic, Nicholas Ray’s Wind Across the Everglades (1958), and a baptismal event for a new generation of young Miami filmmakers that included shorts featuring everything from a feminist reimagining of 8 ½ by two women who think auteurs are boring to a journey through a drive-thru zoo that leads to a three-headed sepent with the identities of Ponce de Leon, a dog, and Death.
Throughout the week of the festival, a number of events (and encores) took place at the Firebird. The abundance of short films was a true showcase of Borscht’s chaotic sensibility. FCAT Fest featured shorts about drag queens, the city of Hialeah (which has the highest percentage of Spanish-speaking residents in the United States), and how one family reacts to watching Goodfellas in Spanish. Real Eyes Realize Real Lies featured a number of documentary shorts about everything from Cuban sugar daddies to cruising on Grindr at Disney World. Prestige Shorts offered works that will or have played at other festivals, made “by people who actually know what they are doing,” as Borscht jokes. And of course, there was the main slate, presented as a one-night-only event the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall, featuring a collection of short films (about everything from alligator wrestling and emergency action plans to an interpretation of Pixar’s Cars in Cuba) preceded by Poncili Creacion riling up the audience with a marvelous puppet show.
“I think that for me, as a new-old employee having my own ‘rebirth’ within the context of Borscht, I’m inspired by the organization’s interest in creating sublime experiences that continue to redefine cinema in Miami,” explains Interim Executive Director Dana Bassett. “We can’t keep doing the same old year after year, and opening up our audiences to fresh experiences and seeing old locations anew is part of that dedication to keeping the work and the programming interesting and avoiding route repetition!”
In recent years, the festival has brought in filmmakers like Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney (both of whom have made short films with Borscht beyond Moonlight), Terence Nance (whose Swimming In Your Skin Again was created for Borscht 9, and whose HBO series Random Acts of Flyness has featured other Borscht alum), and Celia Rowlson-Hall (who brought her feature Ma to the city years after working with Borscht on her short Si Nos Dejan). Never one to deny filmmakers who have brought the spotlight to the city of Miami, this year’s festival offered a few special events with them. Miami native and co-producer of Moonlight Andrew Hevia had his documentary Leave the Bus Through the Broken Window. Harmony Korine, director of modern Florida classics The Beach Bum and Spring Breakers, selected some of his favorite skating videos to play before a party at the new Lot 11 skate park. Trey Edward Shults, whose South Florida film Waves has just hit theaters, presented his short Krisha in an event called “Family Matters,” which was followed by a conversation with local director Chris Molina about Florida filmmaking and creating narratives using existing resources and family members.
It feels impossible to capture the sheer amount of events at Borscht. I’ve said nothing of the parties they throw (one of which, aptly named Deadmall, took place in an abandoned Burdines across the street from the Firebird), the wild presentation of shorts by Bisque Corp (the name that Borscht’s filmmaking fellows gave themselves), which included a vine compilation before the official screening, and unique events like Zia Anger’s My First Film (which the director performed on her birthday, after taking a redeye to South Florida, managing to make plenty of folks in the room cry) and screenings of Hayley Garrigus’ You Can’t Kill Meme and Adam Khalil and Bayley Sweitzer’s Empty Metal, or a closing night trip to none other than Miami’s premier holiday theme park, Santa’s Enchanted Forest. Much like the myriad rides and treats in that enchanted forest, there are endless possibilities. If this city is going to be underwater in a few decades, we might as well watch good movies and party like it’s the last quinceañera we’ll ever attend.
Borscht 0 (epilepsy warning: flashing imagery) ran November 15 through November 24 in Miami.