For three days, 25-year-old filmmaker Julian Yuri Rodriguez has been holed up with his laptop in the Upper Eastside house that Borscht Film Festival uses as its headquarters. He's been working intently with writing partner Ariel Castro on a new short film.
The past weeks have been a whirlwind. Rodriguez and Castro's first collaboration, the visually beautiful and thematically intense C#ckfight, has blown up. A Knight Fellowship from the Sundance Institute sent him to Park City, Utah, for a screening of the short at the Slamdance Film Festival, and this week he'll head to San Antonio to see his film at CineFestival. It also showed earlier this month at the Glasgow Short Film Festival.
Not that he's complaining. "I'm never satisfied with anything," he says. "I always know I can push harder; I always know I can go stronger. I try not to focus on my accomplishments ever."
Rodriguez, who was born and raised in Dade County, has found his footing in the film world through sheer grit, determination, and natural talent. He didn't finish high school and has no formal training, but with help from his mentor -- Miami artist Ahol Sniffs Glue -- and the Borscht Film Festival, he's grown into a cinematic powerhouse whose tentacles reach far beyond this city's borders.
Rodriguez began by directing what he calls "strange music videos" for local acts such as Otto von Schirach, Mayday, and O'Grime. At the time, he was also working long hours on the since-canceled Starz series Magic City. It was then that Borscht awarded him a grant to create C#ckfight.
"Borscht has helped me out tremendously," he notes. "I can't even put into words what they've done for me -- not just giving me funding to make my first film, but putting me in a very positive and creative environment, genuinely caring and pushing me as an artist."
His other best cohorts are his family members. His father has appeared in a few of his works, and his grandmother was the only actor in his first short film, the intimate, bleak, yet touching Poema de Esperanza.
"I like working with people I know," he says. "When I think of stories, I'm inspired by people I actually know. I never got the formal training of working with actors." With these familiar faces and tales, and through his own filter, Rodriguez crafts emotionally charged, haunting works.
As a MasterMind finalist, he'll premiere a project at the New Times event Artopia. Rodriguez will use an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to show C#ckfight in a "movie theater" where a lucky few -- those at the top of the waiting list -- can screen it in an empty room.
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"It's a very personal way of watching the film," which has shown only twice in Miami, he says. "I want it to feel more of an experience and as a narrative. This is going to be the coolest way to watch my movie."
Wanna see more MasterMinds? At Artopia, sponsored by Miracle Mile and Downtown Coral Gables, you can check out work by 2014's ten MasterMind award finalists and watch as the three Mastermind Award winners are announced. And that's just the beginning. Artopia will also include live entertainment by Bottle & Bottega, CircX, and Flamenco Puro; local art by Tesoro Carolina, Trek 6, 8 Bit Lexicon, Hec One Love, Ivan Roque, and Jay Bellicchi; and DJ sets by Main Event Productions, Phaxas, Golden San, Skinny Hendrix, and DJ Supersede. Other sponsors include Rums of Puerto Rico (Official Rum sponsor), Car2Go, El Palacios de los Jugos, Beck's (official beer sponsor), and Vero Water (official water sponsor). Early bird tickets are available through Feb. 2. Visit the official Artopia website.
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