Hell Yeah, This Film Festival Held Its Own Viking Funeral in a Freaking Swamp
Film Festivals

Hell Yeah, This Film Festival Held Its Own Viking Funeral in a Freaking Swamp

Miami’s Borscht Film Festival crew celebrated its tenth edition by setting everything on fire.
February 24, 2017, 8:40pm

Saint Jude the Apostle is the Patron Saint of lost causes, desperate situations, and those of us who need a compassionate helping hand. Once upon a time, Saint Jude was only rarely called upon, for fear of accidentally invoking the similarly-named Judas Iscariot, Christ's ultimate betrayer. As such, Saint Jude is a little more eager and willing to provide assistance than some of the others.

Dear Saint Jude was the official saint of the velorio (Spanish for "wake") and funeral for Borscht Diez, the film festival's tenth edition—it seems there was nothing that could've saved Borscht. Borscht Diez (Spanish for "ten") started the way many lives end: with a funeral, eulogy, and a cleansing fire.

Altars by Sierra Grace and Amanda Ortega. Image by Jessica Kassin.

Maspons Funeral Home in Coral Gables, like most funeral homes, is freezing, and each of the space's chilly salons was transformed into an exhibition. One room was left dark and glowing, illuminated with altars by artists Sierra Grace and Amanda Ortega, all plastic candles, glass kittens, and dead iPhones. In another room, Borscht co-founder Jillian Mayer, addressing the potentiality of her future in the spectral realm, scrawled onto a sheet tacked to the wall: "If I die in the next 6 weeks, I'll come back and move this computer from here to here as a sign." The "heres" referred to two tables below. A laptop sat on one's surface, looping a video of the ocean, nature's majestic symbol of cyclicality.

Deon Rubi's ghost floated in a corner, a bunch of smiling yellow balloons underneath a massive swath of packing plastic that would eventually miraculously float away, grazing and covering guests for the duration of the night. The coffin-selection room's open, pillowy casket became the setting for a depressing number of selfies, but that was probably the point, and if death can't be a meme in 2017, nothing can.

Installation by Jillian Mayer. Image by Jessica Kassin.

Still from Hearts of Palm, directed by Monica Peña

Dracula is without a doubt one of Miami's favorite bands. They are beautiful and strange, and sound like birds singing hymns. Dorys Bello and Eli Oviedo sat across from each other, gazing into each other's eyes, Oviedo on guitar, singing covers of folk songs and Spanish-language ballads. It seems no matter where they play, the audience ends up cross-legged on the floor, teary-eyed and nostalgic; when they played at the velorio, a hush crept over the crowd and you remembered you were, in fact, in a funeral home. Films were screened throughout: Eddy Jellyfish's All the Saints, an homage to Saints and their Yoruba counterparts, the Orishas; the "Alma Victoria Wright 24-11-96 FUNERAL SERVICE" scene from Michael Arcos' VHS Angel Eyes 2: JLo's Inner Most Secrets; and "Ritual," a scene depicting a Santeria rite from Monica Peña's film, Hearts of Palm. Arcos' VHS featured the weeping reactions at a real mid-90s funeral and was equally heartbreaking and creepy; "Ritual," if you knew what was to come later in the evening, felt like a premonitory precursor.

Dracula performs. Image by Jessica Kassin.

Borscht films, ready for cremation. Image by Jessica Kassin.

With Ammy Garcia's GIF-y visuals of anime angels and the ever-present Borscht ouroboros (a gator eating a snake eating a gator eating a snake) as a backdrop, the Borscht crew bid their fair festival farewell. They'd stocked a makeshift wooden coffin with hard drives containing, ostensibly, all of their movies. "Some of you will think this is a good thing," said Mayer. "Some of you will think this is a bad thing. Some of you will just think it's a thing." Roses were laid upon the coffin as it was carried out to a hearse.

Borscht DIEZ's Viking Funeral. Image by Jessica Kassin.

We were led by motorcade, to a woody, swampy location to burn it all. The ritual took place in a glen just off the road and close to the turnpike, in an area that wouldn't quite be designated the proper Everglades. But all of Miami was once Everglades, and it's testament to South Florida's history that, if you veer off the beaten path even a little, you'll get muddy. Through puddles and still-unpaved swampland we traversed, arriving at Borscht's funeral pyre: a screen reading "In Loving Memory," playing every Borscht film on high speed, two ladders on either side.

The coffin was placed before the screen as Roman candles were passed out to the crowd, with instructions to shoot it at the pyre. There were more fireworks hidden on the death altar, because as the green Roman candle orbs finally hit the screen, the fire exploded into fountains of rainbow sparks, the ladders melting and the smoke rising toward the treetops. This was a proper Viking funeral, as many took place on burning pyres later covered with dirt, without a boat set out to sea.

Borscht DIEZ's Viking Funeral. Image by Jessica Kassin.

Borscht DIEZ's Viking Funeral. Image by Jessica Kassin.

It's surreal to watch a movie up in flames, recalling the days when film was made of highly flammable celluloid. The fire was contained, never spreading to nearby trees. It had rained earlier, a sudden and unseasonable downpour, as if by lucky miracle… as if Borscht was watching over us all.

Borscht Diez events will take place throughout February 23rd-26th. Tickets to Borscht DIEZ at the Olympia Theater are available here, and tickets to the rest of the Borscht events are here.

Advertisement
Tagged:Creators