Speeding through Miami in a 1992 Toyota Corolla after midnight is just another day on the job for mastermind and self-proclaimed “Minister of The Interior” of the Borscht Film Festival Lucas Leyva. Leaving his own after party, the head of the city’s premier independent film event was on a mission for Miami’s rapper-turned-mayoral candidate, Unkle Luke Campbell, who told Leyva that he wouldn’t go onstage without three bikini-clad women to back him up—totally normal for a festival the Miami New Times calls “a wildly creative three-week event akin to Sundance on psychotropic mushrooms.”
Semi-nude performances aside, the films included works by award-winning director and Miami native Barry Jenkins, up-and-coming sketch comedy dynamo Duncan Skiles and recent Guggenheim Video Biennale winner Jillian Mayer, who collaborated with indie powerhouse directors Rakontur Films. (“La Pageant Diva” pictured above.) In a city of excess, Leyva’s unassuming disposition and generosity have made him an unlikely candidate for an independent cinema impresario, but his efforts prove that the 305 area code isn’t always synonymous with South Beach debauchery.
We sat down with Leyva to learn more about the independent film festival and his role in making it all happen.
How many of the films in Borscht did you have a hand in personally?
All of them. I was really involved in “Play Dead” from the concept stage throughout, but I had a hand in every film screened.
How was it possible for you to create Miami’s serious foray into independent cinema?
It wouldn’t have been possible without grants, like the one from the Knight Foundation or the support of individuals who really understand the cause. In Miami, until recently, people didn’t get it. They liked watching movies, but for people to invest in Miami cinema, they would expect to see Michael Bay films or “Burn Notice” type of stories. There’s been a huge brain-drain here and because of that typically really talented film makers from Miami have left to L.A. or New York as soon as they had the opportunity.
How long was the process to get the festival to where it is now?
This is the seventh year. Borscht was really started in high school, when a group of my friends and I wanted to make movies, but needed a place to show them. Since then it has grown by leaps and bounds, and become a launching pad for Miami artists to show their work at festivals around the world, including Cannes, Sundance and South by Southwest.