Borscht Film Festival Defends Dade

The fest was punctuated with Coral Morphologic's underwater moments of zen.
The Borscht Film Festival is a love letter to Miami, one covered with lipstick kisses and a few other suspect stains. Last night's seventh edition at the Arsht Center's packed Knight Concert Hall was a three-hour showcase of 305 talent. Of the 23 shorts, 97 percent were shot in, edited in, or inspired by Miami. The varied crop is proof our city is not only a worthwhile muse, but has particularly rich soil for filmmaking.

The festival shakes off Miami's "insipid exterior" (as they phrase it) by featuring the real 305 -- the one that pisses you off, stuns you, and fills you with pride. This Miami is not all sea shells, mojitos, and nights spent at Mansion. As one of the filmmakers, Barry Jenkins, told us in this week's feature story, someone growing up in a neighborhood like Liberty City can probably count on one hand the number of times he or she has been to the beach. Borscht shorts scrape beneath our city's Deco-pink layer of paint.

Photos by Ciara Osorio
The first three shorts established the tone of the night: 1.) Living in Miami means dealing with some crazy shit. 2.) We're immensely proud of this crazy shit. 3.) Said crazy shit is really quite beautiful if you think about it.

In the first short Piratas, a West Miami resident recounts a hilarious only-in-Miami tale about two Cuban pirates who tried to steal his boat. It's an improbable story involving underwear, rifles, and vigilantes on jet skis. Next, clips featuring director Werner Herzog are spliced together to reveal a hearty defense of Dade: "I know they see Miami, they think beach, palm trees, lights -- that's why we call it the Magic City. But once you cross the bridge, it's a whole 'nother life." And then Macro Ramirez's A Toast, an ode to Miami read over images of our strange city, invoked nostalgic serenity for busted-up Botanica storefronts.

Heptalogy: The Get Out
With few exceptions, the festival steered clear of those tired clichés Miami seems to inspire like Scarface and speedboats. Instead, the filmmakers mined our city's deeper stories: tales of Spanish conquistadors mingling with indigenous peoples, the living coral history of the land under our feet. In Reinaldo Arenas, the grotesque news story of a shark left in the middle of downtown became a beautiful metaphor for an immigrant's displacement in the Magic City.

But last night, we weren't just proud and inspired, we were entertained. Crowd favorites included the wonderfully whimsical Otto and the Electric Eel, the insanity of I Am Your Grandma (read more about Jillian Mayer's work here), La Pageant Diva (Black Swan meets The Birdcage), Correctamundo (a sort of black comedy Benny Hill via Telemundo) and of course, The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke (which the crowd began chanting for as soon as the house lights went down at 8:30 p.m.).

The 2 Live Crew frontman and mayoral candidate was in attendance and ended the night by seconding the importance of the arts and promising the Borscht folks lots of work if he should become mayor.

We enjoyed the narratives and visuals of Bird Watchers and Play Dead, although both felt like working cuts and not final films. Chorophyl, Barry Jenkins's short about a woman in the midst of a break-up, lacked the smart dialogue of his feature-length Medicine for Melancholy and was perhaps too meditative for last night's raucous crowd.  (Plus, afterward, we were overwhelmed with a hankering for something called How strange.)

Come to think of it, there was a hell of a lot of product placement in the shorts from Luke Campbell's honeys cradling 2 liters of 7-Up against their breasts to canines taking a break from the zombie apocalypse to watch a commercial for Dog Bar in Play Dead. And although it was beautifully shot, With Me seemed like a 12-minute commercial for Oreos. Was this social commentary a la the Greatest Movie Ever Sold? Or was it just a way wrestle up more funding?

So which of the 23 shorts has the legs to rep Miami in the Cannes, Sundance, and Tribeca festival circuits? We keep thinking about Barry Jenkins's Chorophyl, Lucas Leyva's Heptalogy series (two installments of which screened last night), and Waverly Film's Otto and the Electric Eel. If you were among the thousands in attendance last night, leave a comment and let us know which film you think could be a contender in the international film scene.

See the full slideshow here.

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.

Here's a teaser of Otto and the Electric Eel:

And a teaser of Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke:

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the festival was really good and the films were good too. people should appreciate anyone trying to create some kind of movement in our magic city, not hate on it. great work borscht!

here are my top picks: with meotto/electric eeluncle lukea toast


with me...and my mcdonolds french fries. I immediately flooded my head with images of kubrick films to cleanse my palette of that short. Sad to see how advertising has affected the way some try and shape a narrative.


Although many of these short films were a bit strange for my taste I have to say that we all have to admire their relentless dedication in presenting these short stories which involved probably little or no money to make and a lot of gumption, long hours and hard work. These newly aspiring actors, writers and film directors have what many of us only dream of having -"Passion". Most of us go through life wishing we could of had the guts to have followed our dreams but in the end we accept what life throws our way. They on the other hand are controlling their lives and happiness by achieving their dreams. So I congratulate every single one of them and I will say that I did love "With Me", "Play Dead", "The Get Out ", "I Am Your Grandma" and "Piratas". By the way "Piratas" story line I can confirm is not improbable because it was an event that actually occured ( although not funny at the time ) in our home with our boat and I can also say that as crazy as it sounded they were the facts. You see I am Julian's mom and everything happened exactly how he said it did except they were not pirates just a bunch of delinquents. Congratulations to Borscht for organizing such an excellent event, very well planned and organized and especially for opening the doors to such creative talent in Miami.


to answer the way Jillian did...I'm the director of "WITH ME" and our cookies weren't Oreo's... they were Generic Target Brand Cookies...that looked like Oreos. Same goes for the Pop-Tarts. guessed it....Generic Target brand.

just wanted to clear that up.

Jillian mayer
Jillian mayer

Hello,I directed Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke. The 7-up reference in my film was not product placement from a mega-sponsor ( I wish). We included the lemon-lime drink in the arms of these goddess characters because we heard Luther Campbell likes 7-up, a lot. Unfortunately, it turns out to our dismay, he loves Sprite.

Just setting that straight.

<3 jm


Well-written, fair and balanced article!! Nice job!!!

I really liked Hair Cut, with its Sweeney Todd vibe. Ken Clement is a great local actor. And the Matt LeBlanc (Joey from Friends) alter was ridiculously hilarious.

Waverly totally went ballistic with Otto and the Electric Eel. Otto in a lab, concocting the bass with beakers and potions, creating a monster that he eventually kills, cooks, and eats with Monica!! How classic is that???? Seriously...

La Paegent Diva, which seemed to get the loudest cheer, was well-done. Caroline Schwitzky is kind-of a character, more-so than her over the top counter-part, and also a very capable actress, by the way. Black Swan meets Birdcage, totally...

Pirates was really funny and authentic!! Correctomundo had a great pace!! They were all cool, albeit some had more flaws than others. Anyway, great job Borscht. And great parties too!!!

Lulu Xp
Lulu Xp

I agree, the majority of the movies were infomercials, but hey they used it wisely. One of the important things for me is that the movie took me in emotionally and made me forget that the girl was eating an oreo (referring to "With Me" movie short), and instead she was eating something something memorable from her childhood that she wanted to reconnect with in order to find true self again. Plus they had to in order to make that night happen(How else could me and my friends get in for free, which I am grateful for), so they whored themselfs very well to make it happen. I am very happy because I was able to be there, I had a great time and I nominate "With Me", "The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke ", " La Pageant Diva ", "Otto and the Electric Eel", "A Toast", "The Bus", & the short story of the immigrant and the shark to be a contender for the international film scene. ^_^

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