Lucas Leyva, playwright, filmmaker, founder and self-proclaimed Minister of the Interior of the Borsht Film Festival, wants to organize a petting zoo for Art Basel, which is a seriously cool idea. In this interview, Leyva discusses the subtle differences in his writing and directing style and comments on Miami’s evolving art and music scene. Leyva also muses over the confluence of art and commerce, especially marketing and distribution, and explains why he thinks the youth of Miami will be the progenitors of our community’s artistic revolution.
Neil de la Flor: Do you consider yourself an experimental writer and filmmaker?
Lucas Leyva: It depends on your definition of experimental. I don’t think I am very experimental at all. In fact, I think I’m too lowbrow to even appreciate most experimental art films. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an “experimental” film that really needed to be longer than 3 minutes. I need a story to keep my attention, and I like when the technical craft of film-making is evident in the final product.
But then again, a lot of my idols are traditional narrative filmmakers that have been classified as “experimental.” People like Gus Van Sant and Werner Herzog are always telling stories, but they are just more creative about the methods they use, so they are lumped in with the experimental films.
As a playwright, I consider myself to be more experimental with the form of theater, but always at the service of narrative. I like to write “impossible” stage directions, which may explain why my full-length works don’t get produced that often. I wouldn’t say I like to experiment, but I definitely like to play.
ND: How do you define your worldview?
ND: Yum! What motivates and feeds your creative life as a filmmaker and writer? Besides Miami, what else?
LL: Of course, Miami is a huge inspiration. For a writer there is nothing like living in a city where iguanas literally fall from the sky when the temperature drops below 60 degrees, or where sharks ride the Metro Rail, or giant pythons are always a threat to your small pet, but more than that I am inspired by the other young artists in this community doing amazing things.
I just came back from an impromptu concert at Sweat Records and was really impressed by the depth of young musical talent we have. Our incredible music scene isn’t news, but tonight I realized something even cooler: From the time I moved back to Miami in 2008 to now, I can literally trace the growth of bands who I’ve been seeing perform since then. For example, Afrobeta was always awesome and put on a great show, but tonight there was a discernible polish and professionalism to their work and sound that wasn’t as pronounced a few years ago. It made me look back at my work, and the work of the Borscht Film Festival, and watch the palpable evolution over the years. Now Afrobeta is playing at the biggest music festivals in the world, and our films are being screened at the most important film festivals in the world. It’s incredibly exciting to see what’s next as all of these artists of the same generation grow parallel to one another.
Another cool thing is how supportive everyone is. For instance, I recently wanted an original score for a short film I made. I asked my friend Jared McKay (who is a great artist in his own right as ½ of Morphologic Studios) for help, who in turn collaborated with the guys from ANR, a local band I am a huge fan of but did not know personally. Without ever meeting me, they made a soundtrack for my film, and in turn made my work way better. Stories like that are typical of this community–talented artists across all disciplines cross pollinating, spurring even more growth. It’s really special. Also, Milton Garcia is an inspiration.
ND: Speaking of Garcia, Vanessa Garcia, another “20 Under 40” nominee, says that she believes “in the power of words and art….[It] moves people, it changes brain chemistry, it shifts set mind patterns, it makes us better.” What’s your view on the role of art in our daily lives? Can the arts really make us better?
LL: I prefer to avoid talk about Art in flowery, new-agey terms. I really am not qualified to explain why art is good or if it “makes us better,” but I wish I was.
I figure art is effective, but only if you experience it. This is why marketing and making your work relevant to an audience is as almost as important as the art itself. That might sound cynical, but I think as artists we need to start being realistic about what we do and how we can continue doing it in any environment. We should all talk less about vague notions of the power of art and more about things like demographics and sustainability. I know these are dirty words to many people, but I find them very empowering as a creator.
Specifically, artists existing in a young community like Miami need to be aware that it’s not enough to simply create; it is not enough to be an artist, you need to be a community organizer and audience builder as well. The beauty of being part of the artistic community in Miami right now is that you can mold the city/scenes into what you want them to be. There are literally hundreds of thousands of young people from our generation in Dade County that will come to define our city’s culture. It’s our responsibility to make going to art events part of that cultural DNA, and the only way to get there is by reaching out and making work that is relevant to our generation. I don’t mean that in a condescending way. I mean to say that we have been presented with an opportunity to capture the voice of a unique city at a critical moment in its history. It’s self-defeating to insulate ourselves by making art solely for artists, so artists can talk to each other about it in art terms.
ND: Interesting. So, what are you working on now?
I’m working on getting sponsors for next year’s Borscht Film Festival. Waiting to hear back on a few grants, including one for a Knight Arts Challenge Grant. I’m editing all the plays I’ve ever written (around 30) so I can put them online for anyone to use for free. I’m currently in production for Mrs. Ms, an experimental musical about a girl and her Chihuahua, from the mind of Jillian Mayer. Even though Jillian’s the main creative force, I’m directing and helped adapt it to movie form (it originally existed as a play that premiered at the Arsht Center as part of last year’s “Here and Now”). Here is a sneak preview:Mrs. Ms Kickstarter.
Our last collaboration, Scenic Jogging, was just named one of 120 finalists for the Guggenheim Video Biennial out of over 23,000 videos. We find out if it’s in the top 20 in the next few weeks.
I am also writing a remake of the 1962 French short film La Jetee but setting it in Miami, specifically the Youth Fair, and writing another short film titled I Am Not Udonis Haslem. I am collaborating with Tarell Alvin McCraney to create a short web series about public transportation in Miami.Finally, I am slowly but surely finishing my first feature screenplay, which I hope to produce in 2011.
ND: The Borscht Film Festival, which you founded, has been quite successful in showcasing work of artists under 30. Have you ever considered creating an alternative to the The Borscht Film Festival that focuses on artists 60 and up?
LL: No. That’s cute though. Maybe if I live to be that old, and Miami isn’t underwater, I will consider it.However, I don’t think it would work. Very few people over 60 (or 30 for that matter) would work 18 hour shoot days in sometimes grueling conditions for little or no pay. Adults expect things like food, and air conditioning, and are generally less receptive to being broke. I recently tried working with an older gentleman on a project and it made me realize how awesome my peers are, and why all revolutions and important movements are started by young people.
ND: Favorite food?
Cuban-Chinese food (i.e. fried rice and plantains with palomilla, etc), crispy bok choy from Yakko-San, Falafel sandwich with hot sauce from Mamoun’s in NYC, my dad’s garbanzos with chorizo and peppers, pistachio-almond ice cream, Cherry Garcia ice cream.
Call For Submissions: Leyva is on the advisory board of Romantical, a DVD Zine, which is currently accepting submissions on their website: http://www.romantical.info