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.
Saturday night at the Arsht Center in downtown Miami, the main event of the quasi-annual Borscht Film Festival proved triumphant on several accounts. For Borscht Corp. itself, the program turned out to be its most ambitious to date. The evening boasted nearly three hours of impressively high-quality short films in one of the city’s fanciest venues, with all of the films referring back to Miami in some way. What’s more, thanks to sponsorship and grant money — much of it from the generous Knight Foundation — this year’s slate also featured a number of productions specifically commissioned for the event.
As others have noted, this eighth edition of the Borscht fest main event offered the strongest program to date. The 20 films alternated between high-concept experiments, straightforward narratives, and shorter pieces that fell more on the video art than theatrical film side of things. The beauty of the whole structure, though, was that with the longest pieces topping out at 14 minutes, if you didn’t love something, another, more interesting work would come along shortly. And while locals may consider Borscht to be inveterate jokers, there was some serious thinking and technical finesse behind most of the work.
J.J. Colagrande (HuffPo)...
On Saturday, after 20 months between Borscht festivals, we were an audience filled with hunger, yet what we were served constituted a long, sprawling, sloppy menu that is almost impossible to digest in its entirety. There's a difference between dark, creepy and awkward; Borscht 8 was awkward.
There were some poignant moments; particularly in films like Sea Devil and When We Lived in Miami, but almost every feature ended anti-climatically. If this essay stopped right now, you'd get a good idea of how it felt watching a movie at Borscht 8. There were at least three movies that went to silly nonsensical dimensions; a sci-fi niche that really doesn't pay off in short films. There were a few animated flicks; a couple of one-minute fillers.
There was one thing consistently missing from all these movies: writing.
Truly it's not that hard to tell a story. Here's a crash course in creative writing: create a character, make them want something, challenge them with conflict and have them struggle, provide a resolution and notice them change. Boom. Are art house features not supposed to follow the basic techniques of narrative? Is plot completely thrown out the window in the name of metaphor?
This is about a festival run by a group of young, ambitious, scurrilous filmmakers who could use a little more narrative, a little less metaphor. A little more commercial scene and a little less art house reflection. With the Knight Foundation doubling down, maybe it's time for Borscht to mature. For starters, let's hope Borscht 9 has films with beginnings, middles and ends.