Film

Julian Yuri Rodriguez Made a Short Film About What Scares White People

Julian Yuri Rodriguez's latest short, <i>Lake Mahar</i>, gets at the anxieties of white America with a hyper-accelerated rhythm and an insane sense of humor.

Whitney Mallett

Whitney Mallett

There's always something lurking beneath the surface in Miami filmmaker Julian Yuri Rodriguez's work. In his second short, Lake Mahar, which premiered at the Borscht Film Festival, it's a sense of invasion. "Everything goes completely wrong for this white guy," explains Rodriguez. African land snails take over his garden and his Cuban gardener is clearly fucking his wife. With horror movie tropes and tripped-out editing, Rodriguez gets at the anxieties of white America with a hyper-accelerated rhythm and an insane sense of humor.

Last year, when I saw Rodriquez's first short film, C#ckfight, I stood around after the screening and awkwardly waited to talk to him. His violent and darkly comic imagining of an underground Miami fight club was the best thing I'd seen at Sundance and Slamdance, the scrappy stepsister festival that happens at the same time down the street. I told him I wanted to interview him for a magazine. Instead we ended up sneaking into an industry party, impersonating a C-list director-muse pair, and trashing a hotel room. Almost a year later, while I was in Miami for the Borscht Film Festival, I finally made good on my promise to interview him.

VICE: In both Lake Mahar and C#ckfight, I feel you're interrogating masculinity. What makes you interested in that?
Julian Yuri Rodriguez: I'm working on a trilogy. I want my first three films to focus on different aspects of masculinity. It's definitely an ongoing theme. I wasn't that masculine growing up. I didn't play sports. I wasn't in Boy Scouts. I was a video-game kid. But I grew up in Cuban culture and was surrounded by these real macho machismos.

What was that like?
"How many girlfriends you have?" is a question I guarantee you every Cuban will say they get asked multiple times a year by grandmothers, uncles, cousins. It's just a standard thing. They want every guy to be an alpha male. But these stereotypes are hard to resist. I think that's why I'm interested in making movies about them, because I'm completely aware of how stupid and dumb it is and, at times, I just can't resist my man-brain urges.

How does that play into Lake Mahar?
Lake Mahar isn't really about the machismo, but in a way it's about something similar. It's about a man being completely emasculated. In every house, there's a man who thinks he's a King Arthur and that he's a king of his little kingdom. They just feel godly. Males feel like they have this protection over their [wives and daughters], and it's crazy and insane to me. That's why I wanted to make a movie about this white guy losing it all to these dirtbag Cubans—or "South Americans," as they see us.

In your description of the movie, you said it's "a nightmare of Caucasian emasculation on Flagler Street." What's the context of Flagler Street in Miami?
Flagler is this neighborhood that is completely overrun by Cubans. My neighbors are basically the last American family living there, and they inspired the film's sense of invasion. The white man already invaded this country, and now, they are feeling like they are being invaded. Every family on my street is Cuban except for this one. And the lake that I live on is being invaded by this Spanish tilapia, which is ruining the entire ecosystem. And there are these trees in the film that I focus on, they're Australian pines, an invasive species that is taking over Florida. And there are these giant African land snails that get transferred over here during shipping, and they've gotten into people's gardens. They will eat the stucco off of houses. And if you touch one, you can get meningitis. They are fucking ten inches long. My girlfriend's house got invaded by them. And I would see 20 of these giant snails at a time, just invading.

Your real neighbor plays the neighbor in the film, right? Are a lot of the cast made up of friends and people you know?
Basically everyone is a friend of mine except the main actor, who plays the father. I finally found him through an acting company in Miami. The gardener, Carlos Mucha, he was in C#ckfight too. He made a quick cameo as a guy who was just tripping out in the crowd. I wanted to make it all one universe, like this guy who maybe goes to fight clubs at night is a gardener for this weird family in the day. And then the guy who plays the daughters' friend, that's Ahol Sniffs Glue, the artist. [Ahol's real name is David Anasagasti. He recently won a big settlement after suing American Eagle Outfitters for copyright infringement because they hijacked his trademark motif for a campaign.] He's been a mentor to me. I've been friends with him since I was 16 years old. I just wanted to put him in a movie. He hates acting. I don't think he would have acted for any other director other than me, so I'm pretty lucky. He acts like a fucking pig in this movie. He's down to do the weirdest roles because he respects and has faith in what I do.

Tell me about the community you started making things in.
I'm 26 years old now. When I was 16, Ahol Sniffs Glue and I were in the same graffiti crew. It's called SSK, which stands for South Side Kings. We were the fucking coolest Miami crew in the city. So I grew up in a graffiti crew and I met Ahol and he took me under his wing. Back then, Ahol was sneaking me into these 21-and-over spots. I was having art shows and collaborating on installations. The installations started including video. They were cool to make but they weren't fun and I always thought movies were fun. My favorite movie ever is Fast and the Furious. I just love fun movies and entertainment.

I had this miniDv camera by mother gave me. And I started doing little comedy skits online and I was doing a lot of crazy rap music videos. I did this video for this guy Money Mogly and Rene Rodriguez [the Miami Herald's film critic] said I was like the Gaspar Noé of rap music videos. That's what pretty much set off Lucas Leyva [one of the founders of the Borscht film collective] to say, I'm going to fuck with Julian hard. He gave me the opportunity to make C#ckfight and now this Borscht thing is like family. It's cool to see how Borscht was willing to just reach out to dudes who grew up on the street and give us an opportunity to make films.

Is Miami changing a lot? There seems to be a lot of interest in funding the arts to promote gentrification in the city.
When I was 16 and I was going to these art galleries, you felt like you were walking through a deserted land and you were going to get stabbed at any moment. Now there are Louis Vuitton stores. It's another thing related to Lake Mahar. It's another invasive species that Florida can't get away from.

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