Review: Borscht 8 Film Festival

By | December 16th, 2012 | 14 Comments
Blah blah blah

Just one of many unforgettable Borscht 8 images.

On Saturday, the Borscht Film Festival presented its eighth quasi-annual short film program to a crowd of hundreds at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. While Borscht will continue to host events through this coming Friday, the Arsht Center screening was the festival’s main event, the culmination of months of work on mostly Miami-centric films, many of which Borscht commissioned and produced itself.

Borscht says it is “forging the cinematic identity of the city” — the city being Miami, of course — but really the festival is forging a cinematic identity: Miami as seen through the very distinct, very funny, and, this year, very bloody Borscht filter.

Indeed, many of the twenty titles that screened Saturday night incorporated horror movie trademarks, perhaps because the gruesome “zombie” attack on the McArthur Causeway this year, in which one naked man chewed off much of another man’s face, made Miami feel like ground zero for the apocalypse.

There was Miami 1996, a film by Nick Corirossi that depicted a grimy chonga-chongo party in all its hypersexual grind-till-I-die drugged-out glory. With a snake on the loose, DJ Uncle Al droning in the background, and the smoke of coke-laced blunts obscuring the air, this representation of Miami made the city seem nightmarish even before the bloody beat down that closed the film.

Then there were Haunt Ed, in which a YouTube vlogger takes hallucinogens before spending a night in a reportedly haunted house, and Crackhead Katana, starring an addict whose mission is to rid Wynwood of its hipster interlopers by running them through with his sword. While furthering the horror theme and general insanity of Borscht 8, both felt like extended trailers rather than complete short films.

I’ll lob the same critique at Sea Devil, in which a fisherman attempts to smuggle two Cuban escapees into Miami by passing them off as day laborers. Eventually, the group hauls in a legless, one-armed man covered in polyps, and there’s a foreboding sense that the title character is going to come after him. But after 14 minutes the Sea Devil never surfaces — nor does the significance of this film.

On the plus side there was Waiting For Berta. Directed by Laimir Fano, this 13-minute film follows one 80-year-old Cuban woman as she stalks (at a hilariously slow pace) another 80-year-old Cuban women named Berta. As we find out during a simultaneously funny and poignant peeping-tom scene shot through the window of Berta’s home, both women once loved — and now deeply cherish the memory of — the same man. While decades have passed since this love triangle came together (apparently during the Cuban Revolution), passions still run high, so much so that Berta is in danger of taking a bullet … until the news of Castro’s death sparks a spontaneous celebration in the streets of Little Havana.

While for me Waiting For Berta was an unexpected treat, I was expectantly looking forward to #PostModem, the latest collaboration between Borscht director Lucas Leyva and artist Jillian Mayer. Already slated to screen at Sundance, the 13-minute short follows the duo’s Borscht 7 collabo, I Am Your Grandma, a made-to-go-viral music video that actually went viral (2,103,394 YouTube hits and counting), and the Leyva-produced short film Scenic Jogging, for which Mayer took home an award from the Guggenheim Museum.

In many ways, #PostModem did not disappoint. It is a sui generis piece that just about encompasses the Borscht spirit with its combination of technology-fueled neurosis, deft leveraging of internet culture in the name of critiquing internet culture, low-brow humor meets artsy theorizing meets tongue-in-cheek fear of death — and, of course, a good deal of blood thrown in for completion. I realize that that litany doesn’t tell you a damn thing about the film. That’s because it’s damn hard to describe. But I’ll try:

It starts with a montage of very young children in a playground speaking bluntly about their mortality and the futility of human life. (Side note: I found this eerie in light of the Newtown massacre.) Then it cuts to the bedroom of a despondent teenage girl, who eventually lets her friend jam a computer chip into her forehead (thus, the blood) so that she can upload her humanity to the Cloud and presumably not have to worry about dying. At some point (before the forehead jam, if memory serves), the film cuts to a close-up of Mayer, who breaks into a song called “Mega Mega Upload” whose lyrics also center on humanity’s transition from the messiness of the real world to the comfort of the digital one. Later in the film, we tune in to a Home Shopping Network-worthy pitch for a “product” called the Vortex into which a saleswoman tosses her child’s beeping Tamagotchi. For the life of me I can’t remember how, but we later land on a serene beach, where Mayer strips naked and goes for a cleansing swim in the ocean. You wouldn’t in a million tries guess that she ultimately blasts out of the water wearing a jetpack, turns into an interdimensional goddess, and, in the end, recreates (or creates?) the Paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux with the laser beams she can shoot out of her eyes.

Sounds awesome, right? Ridiculous? Fun? Funny? Incoherent? Self-indulgent? Unforgettable? Yeah, it was all those things. And the same could be said for Borscht 8 as a whole, except for incoherent. If anything, the festival was remarkably coherent in tone and sense of humor considering that its component films are the product of so many different talents. This is a credit to the team, led by Leyva, that took Borscht from someone’s living room to a prestigious opera house.

Walking away from the Arsht Center last night, I wasn’t thinking as much about any of Borscht 8’s individual films as about the three-hour program as a whole. While it had its rough patches — films that need polishing, fleshing out, etc. — overall it came together like one long cinematic epic, complete with all of the absurd elements I’ve mentioned so far in this review and so much more, including an underground fight club in the Design District where a man in a leather horse-face mask sodomizes his defeated opponent, an animated short starring (against his lawyers’ wishes) Miami Heat center Chris Bosh as the savior of our galaxy (this one is a work of a pure genius even though it makes #PostModem look intelligible), and let’s not forget an exploding piggy bank with pork sausages inside of it.

In short, Borscht 8 was three hours of only-of-Miami cinematic entertainment. While the Borscht team might measure success in the awards its individual films rack up at other fests, as an audience member Saturday night I measured it in the numerous times I saw something I never expected to see, and may never forget.

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14 Comments on “Review: Borscht 8 Film Festival”

  1. 1 Diego said at 5:34 pm on December 16th, 2012:

    Complete joke and a waste of my time. I’ve seen high school students pull off better material. What sucks even more is they have a chance to do something real in Miami and they mess it up with nonsense.

  2. 2 JJ said at 7:59 pm on December 16th, 2012:

    You’re too kind,
    but then again, they are advertising on your site..

  3. 3 Jordan Melnick said at 9:27 pm on December 16th, 2012:

    Out of line, JJ. First of all, that is not a paid advertisement. Second, we’re not hiding that we are a media sponsor: Our logo was on the big screen at the Arsht, at the Grand Central after party, and on Borscht’s promo materials. And in any case, this is my honest review. It includes praise for some of the movies and criticism for others, much as my Borscht 7 review did — and no, Beached Miami was not a media sponsor that year. But because my reaction evidently differs from yours you immediately call my integrity into question? Thanks, bro.

  4. 4 JJ said at 1:45 am on December 17th, 2012:

    Hey, Jordan, my intention was not to question your integrity. I publicly apologize if you or anyone thinks so. My fleeting underdeveloped comment was totally tongue-in-cheek; [maybe I should’ve included a wink ;) ] but it’s good that you clarify that Beached is a co-sponsor of Borscht, and that the ad is not a paid advert. The connection isn’t that self-evident. I do remember your review last year, and recall you recusing yourself b-c someone was wearing a Beached Miami shirt in a film. You blatantly take journalism very seriously and this is actually a well-written intelligent review. And this is also a hard assignment to review. If I was to question your integrity, I’d send you a private note ;) But you’re right, I didn’t like this year’s sampling from the Borscht boys. I thought it was really awkward, from the 40 minute delay, to the half-filled Opera house, to the producers comments, from that winy intro with the faux Ronnie Rivera, to that disjointed 1996 Miami, and then I was lost in awkwardness during #postmodem, and you touched on it a little; the opening montage of children meditating on their death, it made me cringe cringe cringe and although it’s not totally fair to criticize the movie or producers for 15 seconds amplified by current events beyond their control, I think they should’ve pulled that movie, or at least addressed the topic. I was too far lost from there on and I didn’t want to be because I really loved Borscht 7… anyway, sry for the miscommunication.

  5. 5 null said at 3:47 am on December 17th, 2012:

    I really enjoyed Borscht 8 and this review pretty much sums up how me and my friends felt.

    I can’t believe you didn’t mention the film by Otto von Schirach!

  6. 6 Jordan Melnick said at 9:52 am on December 17th, 2012:

    JJ, thanks for your follow-up and elaboration. I’m surprised you liked Borscht 7 better. Perhaps the best films last time were better than the best films this time, but there was nothing nearly as bad as The Pageant Diva or With Me this time around. Related to that observation, I also thought that Borscht 8 presented Borscht Corp’s identity more cohesively. They view Miami through a distinct filter, and most (not all) of the films screened on Saturday made sense in that context. I don’t think that was the case last time.

  7. 7 Jordan Melnick said at 9:55 am on December 17th, 2012:

    Null, thanks for the comment. Re the Otto film, my brain could not process The Rise of Supermeng and #PostModem in one sitting.

  8. 8 Diego's Lover said at 12:37 pm on December 17th, 2012:

    So I’m getting that they rejected your mOvie!?

  9. 9 Jordan Melnick said at 12:51 pm on December 17th, 2012:

    I guess you’re referring to THIS. Anyone who thinks that was a serious entry should … start a film festival.

  10. 10 Eloisa said at 1:29 pm on December 17th, 2012:

    I agree that Limar’s and Jillian’s films were the most interesting, especially Limar’s and actually Otto’s was pretty polished, as far as music videos go. But that’s what it felt like, a conglomeration of unfinished messes that were more like trailers and music videos than pieces with meaning and artistic value. I mean I congratulate them on trying new things and really thought about where they fell short. Was it that you need to know the rules to break them? Or that they needed another month of editing and the concepts, the shooting and the edits felt rushed and not well thought out.

    I think unless you are experimenting with the medium like Jillian is, then you should at least be cinematic, like Limar was. I was really angry after Saturday evening for seeing so much crap. I can only compare the experience to after coming out of a Michael Bay movie and just trying to wrap my mind around why he got the funding to spectacularly throw up on screen. Then I remember why

  11. 11 Colin said at 3:35 pm on December 17th, 2012:

    I think that this is a fair and honest review of the main event on Saturday night, but it leaves out some of the most important elements of the Borscht 8 Fest which were all of the panels and screenings at smaller venues around the city over a 5 day period. These guys weren’t just producing, filming, and editing the films you saw on Saturday. They were also simultaneously organizing all these other events while also playing host to dozens of other regional film makers and critics that flew in from around the country. This was the first year that Borscht really felt like it could become a SXSW-style summit that becomes the ‘indie film fest for indie filmmakers’. For the first time it wasn’t just a fest to show locals the fruits of their work (aka Saturday night), and instead raised the bar by also celebrating the emergence of regional film collectives and connecting them all here in Miami.

    Kudos to Lucas and everyone involved with pulling this off. As an observer to the weeks leading up to the event, I can assure everyone that it was a lot more work, stress, responsibility, and COOPERATION than most 20-somethings in this city will ever undertake collectively with their peers (and pull off successfully).

  12. 12 Hans Morgenstern said at 3:54 pm on December 17th, 2012:

    I wish I could have reviewed it. This is a generous review, but not full of bias, as some on this third accuse Jordan of. It’s supportive of the fest, which is nice. I loved Jillian’s film, from the children making us all aware of our fleeting moment on this earth (no shame in that) to the cyber cave paintings at the end. And I didn’t mind faux Bleeding Palm as the opener. Wonderfully edited! More of the film’s should have been as well edited. The Berta joke was too long, for instance. I could only catch the first half on a dinner break from work. Otherwise I would have stayed all the way through and reviewed. For a next day review, damn fine job, Jordan!

  13. 13 Tom Kafer said at 5:30 pm on December 17th, 2012:

    What are you talking about Hans? Berta was much more than a joke. It was a profound shortfilm with beautiful pace hands down.

  14. 14 production companies in miami said at 3:49 am on March 7th, 2013:

    What are you talking about Hans? Berta was much more than a joke. It was a profound shortfilm with beautiful pace hands down.production companies in miami

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