In recent months, Lucas Leyva has been pretending that his Borscht Film Festival is dead.
In October, he launched a website for his semiannual showcase of art films by local filmmakers, featuring a cheesy memorial page populated by late-1990s graphics of angels, prayer hands, melting candles on skulls and even a guestbook for visitors to share remembrances of Borscht events past. Then, in early February, Leyva announced the festival’s lineup of morbid events, which will start with a wake at a Little Havana funeral home. That will be followed by a motorcade to a private home in the Everglades where, the website says, Borscht will stage a Viking-style funeral and set ablaze hard drives containing Borscht films from the past decade.
Reached by phone at his Miami office, Levya admits that while his death theme started “as a joke,” the concept came together after a serious realization. While his nonprofit, Knight Foundation-supported Borscht Film Festival isn’t technically dead, he argues, it shouldn’t have survived.
“Borscht was never intended to last as long as it has,” says Leyva, who co-founded the festival with Andrew Hevia in 2004. “We wanted to promote Miami filmmaking when it wasn’t cool to film in Miami, so we created our own support system. And now, our commissioned films are at Sundance [Film Festival], and the cherry on top has been [the Oscar-nominated film] ‘Moonlight.’ We’re not needed much anymore. So we decided to kill ourselves off and be reborn.”
The so-called rebirth of Borscht will kick off Wednesday, Feb. 22, with five days of music performances; screenings of “The Boom Squad,” a new documentary about Liberty City’s youth football team, and the Louis CK-directed comedy “Pootie Tang”; and the Borscht Film Festival 10, a screening of outre, Miami-set films, on Feb. 25 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
Borscht’s 10th edition, called Borscht Diez, will culminate with #Moonlit, a Feb. 26 block party celebrating the Miami-made drama “Moonlight,” which will take place during the Academy Awards ceremony. Leyva’s Borscht collective played a critical role in shaping “Moonlight,” up for eight Oscars including Best Picture, when he and Hevia introduced director Barry Jenkins to playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney. The block party, at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center in Liberty City, will include a free screening of the film.
This year’s crop of Borscht short-film submissions was another reason Leyva says he went with a death motif.
“A lot of the films submitted have this idea of fatalism and death around them,” Leyva says. “We’re thinking it has to do with Brexit and Trump’s presidency and the end of the world. There’s a lot of mainstream existentialism happening right now, and in Miami it’s more acute, because based on many scientific models, we’ll be underwater within 50 years. Things are going away that we thought would be here forever. So we’re getting everyone into the mindset of change and ending things. These are fun, silly ways to talk about death.”
Borscht will lampoon Miami’s diluvian demise with a Feb. 23 screening of the 1995 Kevin Costner film “Waterworld,” preceded by a bring-your-own-watercraft parade of jet skis and boats that will depart from Stiltsville in Biscayne Bay to Key Biscayne.
Perhaps the most bizarre gathering is Coral Orgy, a Feb. 24 interactive performance-art installation at Soundscape Park in Miami Beach, where “psychedelic invertebrate erotica” from art collective Coral Morphologic will be projected against the wall of New World Center. Other installations and video screenings will go down inside the New World Center, accompanied by music from Hot Sugar, Otto Von Schirach and Baltimore experimental-pop quartet Animal Collective, who will improvise music set to Coral Morphologic’s footage.
“I think of it like a haunted house,” Leyva says of Coral Orgy. “When you look at the coral footage, it looks very sexual with all the throbbing coral and eggs, in addition to being beautiful and psychedelic.”
Borscht Diez will take place Wednesday, Feb. 22, through Sunday, Feb. 26, at various Miami and Miami Beach locations, and will include the Borscht Film Festival 10 from 7 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., in Miami. Admission is free for many events via Eventbrite.com., but require RSVPs. Go to Borscht10.com for a complete schedule.
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