On a Sunday morning in October, the temperature inside Club Eve in downtown Miami is close to 100 degrees. The air is humid and thick with fog and cigarette smoke. The place is crowded with shady, dangerous-looking men no women drinking and shouting, arguing and threatening. The dance floor has been turned into a fight pit covered with red sand. The mood is menacing, ominous: Something bad is about to happen here.
Then Julian Yuri Rodriguez, who is 24 but looks 16, strides through the crowd and yells Cut! and everyone relaxes. The sense of danger seeps out of the room as Rodriguez and cinematographer Daniel Fernandez set up their next shot. They are shadowed by Lucas Leyva, co-founder and chief of the Borscht Corp., the film collective that is financing their movie. Despite the oppressive heat in the room, the young filmmakers arent even sweating: Theyre concentrating too hard on their work to notice.
C#ckfight will premiere during the eighth Borscht Film Festival on Dec. 15 at the Adrienne Arsht Centers Ziff Ballet Opera House. It is one of 14 shorts, all made in Miami, that will screen at the most ambitious edition of the event to date. This month, Borscht received a $500,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a big bump from the $150,000 they received in 2010, proving they are doing something right.
Working out of a 3,000-square-foot Spanish colonial-style home in Morningside, Borscht is one of a growing number of film collectives popping up around the country groups of artists, photographers, actors, technicians and editors who team up to work on each others movies, gaining hands-on experience as they go.
Rodriguez is a perfect case study: His association with Borscht began several years ago guarding equipment and trucks during film shoots. On the set of the zombie outbreak movie Play Dead, he worked as a production assistant for directing brothers Diego and Andres Meza Valdes, whose father Alberto Meza had been Rodriguezs art instructor at Miami Dade College.
That experience led him to start directing music videos for Miami rappers. His prolific output, along with the distinct vision and style of his films, made Leyva decide Rodriguez was ready to make his directorial debut.
Every video he did was better than the last one, and he had developed such a specific voice, Leyva, 26, says. His work reminded me of a Miami version of Harmony Korine, and hes so young and really driven and knows how to get good performances. Hes very well put-together. Thats true of all Borscht filmmakers, I think. Were all in a similar place, and were all open to input from each other."
Like Rodriguezs music videos, C#ckfight is unsettling and dark: Gaspar Noé and Lars von Trier are two obvious influences. But the film also has a distinct look and feel, along with an unexpected sense of strange, only-in-Miami humor - all evidence of a true directorial vision.
When people think of Miami, they think of stereotypical Cuban stories or Miami Vice stuff, says Rodriguez, who was so nervous the night before the shoot he vomited 10 times. I like taking audiences into these weird underworlds that may or may not exist. A lot of my other works have been about strange rappers doing crazy things or just videotaping my crazy neighbor.