Published on October 10th, 2017


When the very successful and incredibly relevant filmmaking collection Borscht Corp. held the 10th installment of their film festival in Miami, their slogan was “Borscht is Dying.” There’s nothing like a bit of death for new perspective. With that, this film critic has been granted access to the group’s library of films to present a selection of their “greatest hits” at Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale. I called it “Borscht is Dead,” in collaboration with Choose 954 and my website

Two films showing that night that embody the group’s evolution include Julian Yuri Rodriguez’s “One Dog Gone Summer” (2017) and Jillian Mayer’s and Lucas Leyva’s “Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke” (2012). Rodriguez’s short films are known for both a confrontational style and a WTF randomness … until now. “One Dog Gone Summer,” which is about a boy’s quest to make sure his dead dog goes to heaven shows great humor and heart. However, its origin is quite dark.

Describing what inspired his film, Rodriguez tells a horrifying story about having to put down his own pet, Scrappy. “I made the film almost like a tribute to Scrappy, my last dog,” he tells me. “I woke up one Feb morning of 2016, and he was having an awful seizure … dying … and my vet just disappeared, so I had to put him to sleep myself … I shot him in the head with my grandfather’s .45 Colt. Old Yellaa,” he adds, referencing that famed Disney movie with that tragic ending.

Uncle Luke

“It was real dark and traumatic, but honestly, it’s made me the person I am today,” Rodriguez continues.

Hence the lightening up in his filmmaking.

“Life and Freaky Times” represents a glance back with another pair of familiar names of the festival: Mayer/Leyva. Mayer, who is also a brilliant, successful multi-media artist, recalls this as her test as a narrative filmmaker, and she had to direct none other than Luther Campbell, of 2 Live Crew fame.

“So in addition to my lack of experience, here was this legend,” she says. “As you could assume, I was nervous but excited. All my anxieties were quickly put to rest when he came to set and was welcoming, kind, funny, personable and had an interesting take on the role … He is one of those people that radiates intelligence and humour, and we feel lucky that he shared his talents with us.”

Though a straight narrative, their short film is still a twisty-thing, inspired by “La Jetee,” a short film by Chris Marker about time travel, love and death. Looking back on this work, co-director and co-founder of Borscht, Leyva admits the film certainly feels dated. However, he says, “It’s instructive to the Borscht ethos in a few ways.”

He explains how it shows the organization’s out-of-box thinking and investment in local artists. Borscht encourages local artists to work outside their mediums but maintain their aesthetic with narrative. It also looks to leverage unique local resources. In this case it was Uncle Luke as well as several members of the local art community who helped with sets and music. It’s also about embracing a limited budget even if it means “imperfect cinema,” which in turn comes to define the work while representing the “high-brow/low-brow duality of Miami by marrying French avant-garde cinema with booty bass, exploring issues of race and identity through silly jokes, etc.”

Borscht is Dead screens Oct. 19, 6 PM – 10:30 PM, at Savor Cinema, 503 SE 6th St, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301. Tickets are $13 and $25.

~ Hans Morgenstern | The Independent Ethos (