Barry Jenkins: Borscht Film Fest's real star

Barry Jenkins: Borscht Film Fest's real star
Photo by George Martinez / Location provided by Real Living Residences at Cynergi Condos
Jenkins focuses his Canon 5D for a scene shot at the swanky Cynergi condo building in Wynwood.

Barry Jenkins calmly navigates his navy blue Nissan Maxima through the empty afternoon streets of Overtown. He crosses rusty train tracks and passes skeletal figures curled up in shuttered doorways before turning onto narrow NW Miami Court. News of union protests in Wisconsin wafts gently from the stereo as Jenkins squints through thick-rimmed glasses and carefully turns into a small, fenced-in parking lot. Suddenly he slams on the brakes.

Zombies.

Dozens of them. Dripping blood, their distended eyeballs and seeping wounds glisten in the South Florida sun. They moan while scraping their feet across the blacktop toward four small, cute, perfectly groomed dogs huddled silently under a dirty tent.

Jenkins and his director of photography, David Bornfriend, line up a shot while filming Chlorophyl.
Photo by George Martinez / Location provided by Real Living Residences at Cynergi Condos
Jenkins and his director of photography, David Bornfriend, line up a shot while filming Chlorophyl.
Boom operator Felix Alvarez records sound for the film.
Photo by George Martinez / Location provided by Real Living Residences at Cynergi Condos
Boom operator Felix Alvarez records sound for the film.

Location Info

Map

Knight Concert Hall

1300 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, FL 33137

Category: Performing Arts Venues

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

Details

Barry Jenkins’s Chlorophyl will screen this Saturday at the seventh annual Borscht Film Festival, which features 12 melody-inspired shorts and one videogame. James Francco — a robot — will host the event. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and movies begin at 8 on April 23 at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. General admission is free but available on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets for orchestra-level seats cost $20 and come with a T-shirt, poster, gift bag, and temporary tattoo. Reservations at arshtcenter.org.

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But Jenkins, a handsome, compact former Northwestern High School fullback and track star, doesn't bolt.

"Cut!" yells a young bearded man in a trucker hat. The zombies relax and head inside for potato chips and juice boxes as the postapocalyptic spell is broken. Jenkins backs his car away from the chaotic set of Play Dead, a sanguinary spoof of the Homeward Bound animal adventures, and parks on the street in the desolate, semi-industrial neighborhood. The 31-year-old Taye Diggs look-alike in geek glasses, a plaid shirt, and skinny jeans slides out of the rental car and bounds toward the building. He pulls open a glass door flecked with fake blood and walks into the hub of Miami's indie movie world: the Borscht film studio.

"Fucking zombie dogs," Jenkins remarks, glancing at a corner office transformed into a kennel for the movie's canine stars.

"Do Not Enter Unless Trainer Is Present," reads a sign on the door. The dogs cost hundreds of dollars each per day to rent. They are the most expensive items in the grubby, whitewashed warehouse. In fact, their combined acting fees are twice as much as the entire budget for the film Jenkins has flown to Miami to make: a 25-minute short called Chlorophyl. The plan is to shoot it in six days for less than the cost of a catered lunch in Hollywood.

Chlorophyl is one of a dozen short movies commissioned for the seventh annual Borscht Film Festival, a wildly creative three-week event akin to Sundance on psychotropic mushrooms. The festival ends this Saturday with a screening of Jenkins's film and others at the Adrienne Arsht Center's Knight Concert Hall.

Jenkins will be the reluctant star of the show, the city's shy prodigal son returned home to show off his filmmaking talent. He's a jock from Miami's most dangerous neighborhood who has quickly become one of the most sought-after young directors in the nation. His debut feature film, Medicine for Melancholy, premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, won a handful of independent movie awards, and was ranked one of the best movies of 2009 by the New York Times. He is now juggling two potentially multimillion-dollar movies and weighing an offer to direct another for Disney.

He is a triple rarity in Hollywood: a young, black director who has so far refused to sell out by resorting to bigger-budget films.

His most immediate challenge, however, is making Chlorophyl fast. Sitting in a cluttered office the night before filming begins, he rummages through his camera equipment and scratches several scenes from the script. Already, things are starting to fall apart: Mike Diaz, the lead singer of MillionYoung — the local band whose song "Chlorophyl" inspired Jenkins's short — has dropped out.

"Fuck," the normally unflappable Jenkins sighs as he rubs his closely shaven head. "This is like making a full movie. Where's my Miami vacation?"

The morning sun flickers off the swimming pool like a disco ball, splashing Ana Laura Treviño's face in brilliant white light. The curvy, quiet 26-year-old Mexican-American stands motionless in the middle of a tony house in the Design District. She's dressed in a skimpy gray T-shirt and jean shorts and clutching a stiff screwdriver cocktail.

"Action," Jenkins says, huddled next to a camera and tripod.

As the song "Chlorophyl" booms from the stereo system, Treviño sways her hips and spins slowly. She nearly splashes her bright orange drink on a $30,000 sofa made of stuffed animals. As layers of percussion build over the dreamy, synthesized melody, Treviño prances back and forth in her bare feet, throwing her head back like a Navajo rain dancer.

"Cut!" Jenkins shouts suddenly, bringing the music — and Treviño — to an abrupt halt. Something is missing.

"I need a joint," the director says. "Where's my joint?"

As a production assistant hastily rolls an oregano-filled spliff for the scene, Jenkins sneaks a look at the footage. Though shot on small, handheld digital cameras by a tiny crew, the images are stunning: Treviño, a first-time actress scraping by on a TV production job, is transformed into Ana, a jilted young lover trying to forget her philandering ex-boyfriend.

But a life of fine art, primo weed, and Grey Goose onscreen couldn't be any more removed from Jenkins's youth, spent less than two miles from here.

"Growing up, I never set foot in an apartment like this," Jenkins says. Instead of swimming pools, he and his friends used to jump off roofs onto old mattresses for fun. In fact, his family often had to heat water in a kettle on the stove to take a hot bath. "Whenever I tell people I'm from Miami, they always ask me about the beach. But I can count on one hand the times I went there as a kid."

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