The Tropic Cinema in Key West.
The Tropic Cinema in Key West.

Other highlights in the Florida shorts program, also produced by Borscht Corp., utilized the environment in different ways. Actress-producer-director Amy Seimetz, a Florida native, was technically in town to promote her role in Yen Tan's gentle drama "Pit Stop," but also directed "When We Lived In Miami," the tale of a defiant mother that was shot in the midst of tropic storm Isaac. Seimetz plays the mom of a six-year-old clueless to her parents' marital troubles, even as they swirl about the family in a physical manifestation provided by the real life storm. As with Seimetz's feature debut, the outstanding minimalist crime saga "Sun Don't Shine," Florida's climate becomes the primary driving force of the plot.

Similarly, the state's history provides a compelling backdrop for "Waiting for Berta" (which screened at the Borscht Film Festival last year), in which an elderly woman tracks down an old foe on the eve of Fidel Castro's death. And then there was "Cockfight," Julian Yuri Rodriguez's wacky metaphorical look at Miami's underground cockfighting scene that abruptly transforms its beaked competitors into human beings.

Viewed through the lens of these productions, Miami takes on a remarkably complex definition rich with cinematic possibilities. Such potential wasn't lost on festival founder Brooke Christian, a D.C.-based executive whose family has lived in the Key West area for over 20 years. While Florida has its fair share of significant festivals, particularly the indie film launchpad at the Sarasota Film Festival and Orlando fixture the Florida Film Festival, Key West offered space for another welcome excuse to explore the state's film community.

"From the outset, Brooke had a clear [vision] for the festival in bringing a first class film festival to a market ripe for one given its strong support of the arts and creative spirit," said program director Michael Tuckman, a prominent New York-based theatrical booker who runs M Tuckman Media. "He went out of his way to avoid any kind of niche programming angle and instead cast a wide net covering all genres of film in trying to build a program as diverse as the community."

For future editions, Tuckman said the team hopes to develop Key West into "a showcase for South Florida and Key West filmmakers in particular."

A glance at the recent lineup makes that assertion more appealing than it may appear. Just ask the cab drivers.