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"I don't think he's seen it," says Nick Ducassi, sitting in the living-room-turned-office of filmmaking collective Borscht Corp's headquarters. He sounds unconvinced as he utters it. But Lucas Leyva, on a break from editing film in the adjacent Florida room, agrees: "He probably hasn't seen it. [The letter] came from his people."
They're talking about Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh and the trailer for an animated short titled Adventures of Christopher Bosh in the Multiverse, the centerpiece of an event Ducassi and Leyva are planning as part of this week's eighth Borscht Film Festival.
To the filmmakers, the name of the event — the Bosh Film Festival — is both a funny play on words and an apt description. But to Chris Bosh's lawyers, who sent the Borscht Film Festival a cease-and-desist letter November 29, it's "an infringement of [Bosh's] publicity rights, privacy rights, and common law trademark rights."
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"If he saw it, I think he'd like it," Leyva says. "He's a superhero."
Since its first edition in 2003, the Borscht Film Festival has quietly evolved from a project of New World School of the Arts high school juniors into one of Miami's leading creative organizations. Videos created or commissioned for Borscht go on to screen at household-name film festivals such as Sundance and South by Southwest; others rack up millions of hits on YouTube. Earlier this month, the Knight Foundation awarded Borscht a $500,000 challenge grant, to be used to expand the festival. And this year's lineup is its most ambitious to date, with 21 films, including an entry by Adan Jodorowsky, son of cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky, and another from Court 13, the New Orleans-based collective whose feature film Beasts of the Southern Wild won awards at Cannes and Sundance this year.
And then there's the legally controversial Adventures..., which really is an homage to Bosh. Created by Miami artist Ronnie Rivera, AKA Bleeding Palm, the film presents a trippy theory to explain Bosh's clutch performance during the 2011 NBA playoffs: The lanky athlete is secretly a space prince from another dimension, one who rose up to fight the world-domination plans of an evil Internet queen — and winning basketball games in the process. It plays like the radioactive love child of The Jetsons and TV Funhouse, with plenty of the colorful randomness that is Rivera's characteristic style. At times, it gently teases Bosh — there's a reference to his dinosaur-esque appearance, for instance — but it's clear it comes from a place of love.
That's what makes Bosh's lawyers' threats so baffling, Ducassi and Leyva say. But if there's a silver lining to the cease-and-desist letter, it's that it's yet another example of people outside Miami's small indie film community taking notice of Borscht's work.
"It speaks to how we're perceived to the outside world," Ducassi says. Leyva points out that the letter implies the lawyers perceive Borscht as a threat to Bosh's finances, demanding an accounting of funds raised by the film so they can take their legal share. "We did the math, and even if we sell out the Arsht Center [on the main festival night], the money we'll make is equal to about two, two-and-a-half minutes of court time for Bosh... They don't know we're a nonprofit, funded by foundations and donations."
But maybe Bosh's lawyers do have reason to worry. It's hard to deny Borscht's growing momentum, with a string of successes in recent years. When another selection from Borscht 8, #PostModem, screens at Sundance in January, it'll mark the third consecutive year that a film created or commissioned for Borscht will screen at the prestigious event in Park City, Utah. A collaboration between Leyva and artist Jillian Mayer, who both made their Sundance debut last January with Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke, #PostModem delves into Mayer's typical subject matter: how we interact with the world through digital mediums. But this is no sobering drama. Viewers can expect quirky scenes featuring Tamagotchis, cheesy home-shopping network hosts, and infectiously catchy theme songs.
"Jillian provides the kernels [of ideas] and the art perspective," Leyva says, describing the pair's filmmaking process, "and I provide the connecting tissue for the narrative."
Leyva's experiences at Sundance and other film festivals gave him a new goal for the Borscht Film Festival: to build community within the loose network of regional independent film centers around the world. For the first time since the festival began in 2003, it has invited filmmakers from Havana, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and South Africa to bring their experience to Miami. Most are staying together at a South Beach hostel, which Leyva hopes will foster a communal environment of shared ideas and learning, similar to the one he experienced in Utah last year.
"I don't know what's going to happen; it's kind of an experiment," he admits. But the goal, he says, is letting the festival "tell other cities' stories."
That doesn't mean Borscht is losing its Miami focus. This year's festival will open with Miami 1996, created by South Florida native Nick Corirossi. Corirossi lives in Los Angeles, creating videos for the website Funny or Die, including a series of viral videos featuring actor Don Cheadle as an evil Captain Planet. But his contribution to Saturday's lineup is pure 305. Shot in 12 hours with a handheld camcorder, the flick looks like found footage from a mid-'90s house party, complete with scenes shot in a '92 Toyota Tacoma and fashion straight out of In Living Color. It's easy to imagine audience members yelling and laughing along with the party people onscreen as they remember their own '90s experiences.
"People from Miami," Ducassi says, "they're going to freak out."
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