The Sunshine State of Independence: The Borscht Corporation come to Glasgow Short Film Festival

Down in south Florida a group of filmmakers have been making waves on the US indie film circuit. They go by the name The Borscht Corporation, and Glasgow Short Film Festival are bringing their wild cinematic vision to Scotland for an in depth showcase

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 06 Feb 2014

If anyone thought the sight of James Franco serenading a pair of machine gun-wielding Disney princesses with a Britney Spears ballad while dressed as a gansta rapper in Harmany Korine’s Spring Breakers was as hallucinatory as US cinema gets in the 2010s, then think again. Working the same turf of south Florida, filmmaking duo Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva have amassed a body of work so original and inventive it makes Korine look like Ron Howard.

Watching films like The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke, an adaptation of Chris Marker’s La Jetée, starring Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew as the time-travelling saviour of humanity, and Adventures of Christopher Bosh in the Multiverse!, an animation featuring the eponymous Miami Heat baseball star and a mystic wolfman, it occurs to you that Mayer and Leyva, and The Borscht Corporation film collective they run, don’t see cinema like other filmmakers. Words like eccentric, surreal and psychedelic can’t do justice to their whacked-out vision.

Borscht Corp was formed in 2003 “by accident” by a group of high school juniors. “We were all at this arts high school [Miami’s New World School of the Arts],” says Leyva, Borscht Corp’s ‘Minister of the Interior,' via Skype from his office in Miami. “I was in theatre, other friends were in dance and visual art. There wasn’t really a film programme, but one of us had a camera and we would all kind of goof around and make movies on the weekend.”

“Now that cameras are getting better and cheaper, and people are getting better at digital effects, we can tell more outlandish stories for less than you ever could before” – Lucas Leyva

But once these films were made, there was no infrastructure in which young Miami filmmakers could show their work, so they “kind of did it backwards”: they made the movies, then they built Borscht Corp and the Borscht Film Festival around them. “Back then it was very informal,” explains Leyva, “just us having a party and playing movies in classrooms after school.” Now, the collective’s films play in festivals all over the world: on the day of our interview Leyva is flying with Mayer to Park City, Utah, for Sundance, and this month they visit Glasgow for GSFF’s retrospective of their work.

One of Borscht Corp’s primary aims is to allow Miami’s local filmmakers to tell stories that go beyond the typical portrayal of the city as a beautiful but vapid party town (see Spring Breakers). “It’s such a strange town with its own personality that it hasn’t really been explored that much in film,” Layva says. “I mean, there are famous Miami films, if you think of Scarface and Miami Vice, but there aren’t really any movies about the Miami that we know. More than anything it’s about articulating ourselves as artists in a specific place.”

While their idiosyncratic, eye-popping films reflect the city they live in – Leyva decribes his home town as "magic realist" – they also serve as a healthy antidote to the down-beat, realist style that has been the predominant US indie film movement of the last ten years: mumblecore. But Layva insists there’s more to their crazy visual grammar than a mere reaction to recent US indie trends. One reason for favouring visual spectacle over talky dramas is that Miami doesn’t have the abundance of out of work thespians you find in New York or LA. “We don’t know that many good actors down here, so as a result our films aren’t character or relationship based,” explains Leyva. “They’re more based on the things that we do have, like access to a lot of artists and design elements that make our films a lot more experiential.”

Another reason is technological: “Mumblecore came out when you couldn’t make a film that was primarily visual for the price of a mumblecore film. Now that cameras are getting better and cheaper, and people are getting better at digital effects, we can tell more outlandish stories for less than you ever could before.”

Mayer and Layva’s first feature film, Post Modem, starts shooting in the summer. Get down to the two Borscht Corp programmes at the Glasgow Short Film Festival to say you saw them first.

Mayer/Layva programme screens 14 Feb at CCA, 7.15pm

The Borscht Corporation programme screens 16 Feb at CCA, 6.30pm

Mayer and Layva will introduce both programmes and both events will be followed by a Q&A