Miami’s Borscht 9 Film Festival

A multiverse theme park, Vanilla Ice's face repurposed, Scarface snipped to bits and more


With each iteration garnering greater acclaim, grander theatrics and an ever-expanding audience, Miami’s quasi-annual Borscht independent film and arts festival debuted its ninth installment at the end of December 2014. Unlike other festivals, the creative community behind it, Borscht Corp, commissions most—if not all—of the works seen during the multi-day, multi-venue event. Across features, shorts and full-on experiences, there’s a healthy dose of the bizarre coupled with inspired, imaginative execution of experimental filmmaking. Narratives take new shape. Viewers are immersed in otherworldliness. Comedy, sometimes in a distorted, eerie form, punctuates almost every piece. And while Borscht is a valid, worthwhile event unto itself, the core goal is to draw attention to the creators within Miami—furthered by the fact that many of these films premiere here but ultimately make their way elsewhere—be that Sundance of the New York Film Festival.

Borscht Corp’s “Minister of the Interior” Lucas Leyva, who co-founded the festival while still in high school, directs the creative programming with Guggenheim Video Biennale winner Jillian Mayer. However, he refers to it as open source—with anyone who contributes work being given a voice in the overall experience. He notes, “The experiment is working. We got our first film into Sundance in 2011 and we told people about what was going on in Miami. We were laughed at. Now there is more of an awareness of the counter culture that exists in this city.” As for how this year is different than previous years, he jokes, “Well, the films became watchable about three or four years ago,” before sharing, “People trust us more.” The trust is there for a reason. Here, our highlights outline an experience cinema-lovers would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.


The Multiverse

This year, as a way to trick attendees of all ages into watching experimental art movies, Borscht hosted a pop-up theme park dubbed the Multiverse. Leyva explains the vision behind it as, “What would the Borscht version of Disney World be?” He notes it was more of a sketch of an amusement park, but it came complete with eight-foot-tall cut-outs, two stories of virtual reality stations, a winter wonderland area with a slide and a giant mechanical shark. A map handed out at entry demonstrated how to navigate the space. Much of this year’s programming incorporates alternate universe locations, and this was a physical manifestation of such otherworldliness.


Scarface Redux

At the infamous Mansion Nightclub (once a former classic movie theater), Borscht screened a remake of Brian de Palma’s Scarface. “We got the film and chopped it up into 15-second clips,” Leyva explains. “We put those online and invited anyone who wanted to make their own version of a clip, to upload it, and send it back to us.” The Borscht team re-edited one third of the film with these clips—lending an erratic tinge every so often. They plan to do more screenings along the way as they continue to re-edit the film its entirety with the crowd-sourced footage.

Cool as Ice 2

This short film by Leyva and Mayer bills itself as a sequel to the 1991 film Cool as Ice—only, their lead has been pirated. While the original features Vanilla Ice, less commonly known as Robert Van Winkle, this follow-up utilizes some DIY computer wizardry. “We didn’t get the actual actor Robert Van Winkle. I found a film where he turned his head, and a lot of videos online. I would pull screengrabs and feed them into 123D Catch to create a 3D model of his face,” Leyva begins. “It still wasn’t perfect, so we found on eBay these rare ‘Barbie dolls’ they made of him. We scanned that and made a fully realized 3D rendering of his head. We printed out masks of him and then we animated that face with motion capture.” In essence, the film stars an actor wearing a Vanilla Ice mask with motion capture Vanilla Ice projected onto it. Altogether, it’s strange, thoughtful and entertaining.

Stripper Wars

In director Giancarlo Loffredo’s short, he explores inside the famed King of Diamonds Gentleman’s Club in Miami. There, he enters the world of main character Kayoz, the stage name of one of the Flying Angels—the club’s elite exotic dancer unit. Sexual and sensory, the film probes the character’s internal life amidst the glitz of her surroundings. And while it’s NSFW, it’s also not gluttonous for the sake of gluttony.

Images courtesy of Borscht Film Festival