Borscht Corp Is on a Mission to Put Miami on the Filmmaking Map

Lucas Leyva and Jillian Mayer of Borscht Corporation. Photo: Brian Nicholson for Latino Reel

As a city, Miami’s got a lot going on: finance, biotech, a colossal Spanish-language media empire. But one of the last things we associate with the Magic City is a thriving independent film scene. Sure, it’s used as a backdrop for innumerable police procedurals and big-budget gangster films, but these slick productions parachute in from Los Angeles or New York, get their shots in the can, and hop on the first red eye back home. In many ways, Miami has been left without an authentic image of itself, rendered a cliché of beachside leisure and Latino criminality by decades of media misrepresentation.

That is, until Lucas Leyva and Jillian Mayer of Borscht Corp. started making their mark on the city. The fortuitous encounter of a playwright and a performance artist, the Mayer/Leyva duo has spent years redefining representation of Miami, driven by a deep love and fascination with the city they call home. Over the past several years, their Borscht collective – an amorphous group of audiovisual collaborators united by their unapologetic Miami flow – has emerged as a unique cinematic brand that mixes humor, conceptual depth, and the language of digital pop culture.

Thus far, kooky Borscht shorts featuring dancing vaginas, creepy future babies, and starchy Caribbean tubers have been featured at festivals like Sundance and South By Southwest, sometimes with multiple entries playing at a single festival. To round things out, a handful of their projects have also gone viral, inspiring digital remixes and even appearing on the cover of sophisticated art bulletins. In other words, Mayer/Leyva and their Borscht crew are straddling the line between the high and the low, pop and prestige, and having a good laugh along the way.

Naturally their work has caught the eye of more than a few cultural movers and shakers, and they’ve had their work commissioned by MTV and the Time Warner foundation, among others. But more than accolades and laurels, Mayer/Leyva are hell bent on putting their city on the map and making Miami a viable place to start a career in film and television. And they’re well on their way.

Now take a moment to bask in some knowledge the duo dropped at a recent Sundance panel organized by Latino Reel, and hosted by the Time Warner foundation’s OneFifty incubator for diverse storytellers.

Lucas Leyva On Starting From Scratch Every Time

Because we don’t actually know how to make movies, we don’t know what we’re doing, every process is reimagining how to do this from scratch. Especially in our early work we had no funding in addition to having no skills, so it required being tricky. And we both get bored easily so we’re always trying to keep each other entertained, and also create new imagery.

Jillian Mayer on Ambiguity in their Work

That’s our favorite place to exist, where people aren’t really sure what something is or what could it be, or what’s the trajectory of the piece, and it’s a really fun landscape to navigate through.

Lucas Leyva and Jillian Mayer of Borscht Corporation. Photo: Brian Nicholson for Latino Reel
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Lucas Leyva On Coming Home

I hated Miami growing up, and I got the hell out of there as quickly as I could. And I went to New York expecting to find the Village in the 70s, and everyone kind of making art and doing all that. And unfortunately I don’t have a trust fund. I would have liked to live that life, but it’s not realistic right now. Also I realized that idea of community and creation didn’t exist, I didn’t find it there. And at the same time I started coming back to Miami more and realizing what an impact it had on my voice as a playwright and as an artist in general. It’s such a fascinating city and there’s so much to be mined, and realizing especially that in mainstream films, Miami is big thick boobs in South Beach, or Hispanics shooting each other over cocaine… but theres a lot more interesting things happening there. Every newspaper headline could be from a magical realist novel.

Every Miami newspaper headline could be from a magical realist novel.

Lucas Leyva on Betting on Miami

When we started making movies, it was this idea of instead of going to Los Angeles or New York and trying to make your way up this existing infrastructure that you don’t necessarily agree with, and is a little bit odious when you think about it… Wouldn’t it be nice to spend the few years that you would be struggling up that thing, trying to build something from the ground up? And that was really an exciting opportunity for me coming right out of school, like let’s see what we can build here, and if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work.

Jillian Mayer on the Digital Revolution

It’s great when your work is received by people that are not your parents or your friends. That’s what really great about the access of the internet or these platforms is that it’s just such a great testing ground, and you can literally make something in your bedroom and it has a chance to exist alongside other hugely constructed, massive projects.

Photo: Brian Nicholson for Latino Reel
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Jillian Mayer on That Miami Magic

Miami’s a pretty magical place, I think we’re totally influenced by the way in which it’s marketed, and the colors of it, the pacing of it. And also it’s sinking, so there’s always that over your head, that everything will be gone soon. So work really hard now, cause you never really know when you’re gonna go. I think people often say that it’s like the wild west in a way, because it’s not like New York or LA that has this highly cultural industry in film or the arts. It’s more formative and for a lot of the artists it’s theirs to mold and theirs to create and theirs to attack. And I feel that that vibe carries over into the work of the filmmakers and artists there. You can make it whatever you want.

Lucas Leyva on Exploring Miami Identity

For the most part Miami was a transient city. Most of our parents identified as Cubans or Hondurans or Guatemalans, whoever was waiting out whatever thing was in their country, or trying to do something better in Miami. We’re the first generation to sort of define what it means to be a Miamian, which is a very specific culture that hasn’t really been explored in cinema yet. And it is informed by all these different communities coming together. You’re no longer Haitian, you’re Miamian… what does that mean? And that’s fascinating to us.