After years of cultivating an independent film community in Miami, the Borscht Corporation has returned to Sundance with a bold new project. While they have previously come to the festival with assorted shorts, this time they’ve brought a feature-length anthology which explores the place many of these filmmakers call home, using it as a playground. The star of Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia is a Top Gun Cigarette speedboat painted in bold colors, which already represents so much of what tourists and outsiders think of Miami. But in the hands of its 15 directors — Daniels, Hannah Fidell, Alexa Lim Haas, Lucas Leyva, Olivia Lloyd, Jillian Mayer, the Meza Brothers, Terence Nance, Brett Potter, Dylan Redford (whose grandfather Robert Redford makes a voice cameo), Xander Robin, Julian Yuri Rodriguez, and Celia Rowlson-Hall — Omniboat is anything but another travel brochure. It’s an exploration of Miami’s history, subcultures, and attraction to the unusual, as well as the myths and legends that predate the skyscrapers and luxury high rises.
Omniboat begins with a real estate presentation by a clueless businessman who, like many before him, wants to build a luxury condo on Miami’s crowded coastline. He proposes a building in the shape of a phallic-looking number 1 which features the gilded bones of a dinosaur out front. He wants to sell the hopes and dreams of the area to rich investors, invoking the tortured history of settlement in the South Florida swamps before it became a cosmopolitan jewel. The film then shifts its focus to the speed boat (which for most of the running time bears the name Lay’n Pipe) as it journeys through an onslaught of absurd stories, each referencing each other as they intersect or call back to past Borscht Corp events. The plots feature boat chases, a murderous boat, boat VR simulations, the baby of a boat and a monster truck, and more, digging at subjects like the economic recession, excess, different groups of people clashing and living together, local news, irresponsible reprobates, and explorers.
Watching Omniboat feels like tuning in to Adult Swim with a Florida makeover. An anarchic spirit melts together the bizarre, the tacky, misfit characters, and the purely nonsensical. The chapters vary in length and tone, aesthetics and punchlines. It is not designated which segment is the work of which director, adding to the chaos; one rolls into the next without any break or introduction. If you are familiar with any of the filmmakers’ previous work, you might be able to guess a few standouts, like Rowlson-Hall’s gorgeous post-hurricane modern dance number or Mayer’s hyperkinetic, internet-infused boat repair segment. Otherwise you’re just along for the ride, and hopefully the laughs.
With so many directors on board, Omniboat sometimes feels too heavy, slowed by the sheer amount of stories to tell and long jokes to play out. Some pieces are stronger than others, like when the boat makes its way to a group of Cubans stranded on an island, or how the movie continues to check in on the businessman’s fall from grace. Compare that to the meandering emptiness of a random sea monster attack, or an overlong drama in which a man in a VR simulation believes he’s a boat while researchers attempt to snap him out of it. But there’s something surprisingly earnest in Omniboat, even with the silly visuals like a boat giving birth to a baby boat or an alien hopping out of a human suit, or Florida-specific jokes like the mention of a President Marco Rubio, or a Florida-Man-tinged story of a woman sexually attracted to our star boat. The stories told about this region will not always be the ones to define it; not if more artists and filmmakers from there have anything to say about it.
Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and will continue to play festivals in the months to come.