Screening at this year's prestigious Slamdance Film Festival (in the Anarchy Shorts category), "C#CKFIGHT" is a nine-minute long mind-bending and voyeuristic exploration of a sweat-soaked back-room brawl. Born and bred in Miami, filmmaker Julian Yuri Rodriguez—a Knight Foundation Fellow at the Sundance Institute—co-wrote and directed the film. While it's Rodriguez's first narrative fiction piece, it also happens to be another stellar offering from the producers behind #PostModem and Miami's Borscht Film Festival.
Rodriguez refers to "C#CKFIGHT" as a deconstructed adaptation of Dante's "Inferno," but the setting happens to be a fighting ring somewhere within Miami's underworld. There, a boisterous cast of horror show-like characters, chant and cheer to support the destruction of one combatant. The scene's onlookers are clearly entertained, as are viewers of the film. In that chaos, the filmmaker explores and questions what we find engaging and beautiful. The experience is seedy and brutal, with hellish yet celebratory undertones. Dizzying and visionary—almost like Gaspar Noé's "Enter the Void"—this is a freakish carnival of curiosity with death and sex as the stakes.
The 25-year-old Rodriguez began as a music video director but burst onto the scene with a documentary short that was written, directed and starring himself. This film, "Piratas," premiered at the Borscht Film Festival and demonstrated his knack for charged storytelling, which gained him strong critical support. With "C#CKFIGHT," Rodriguez found himself directing roughly 70 extras during one 16-hour shoot. "If I had to call it any genre," he explains to CH, "I'd call it a fantasy film. At the time of filming, I was living a double life—working 18-hour days on a TV show but also doing many of my own things. The characters in my film also have day jobs, but I wanted to make this setting where there's this fantasy world where guys go away." He binds the root of this directly to the film's structure. "The opening shot is this couple getting engaged. The final is a rooster in the same spot. I wanted to take people into a world where we could be our animal selves and act on instinct."
Although there are roosters in the short film, no animals actually fight. "Originally, when I pitched the film, I said I was going to make a cockfighting movie, but deep down inside it wasn't what I wanted. As far as visually, I was inspired by fighting movies but I also didn't want to make a fight movie," he says. "My film almost plays out like an old gladiator match, but there is an elegance throughout. It was hard to maintain elegance in such a dark setting but the main thing I wanted to convey was making the audience ask whether or not they found the film beautiful—and why." The film is indeed beautiful, with a sweaty, smoky aesthetic. However, it is also gruesome. There is even a perversion to the contents that led Rodriguez to film certain scenes with the extras without the two main fighters, for fear the extras would have walked off set. Ultimately Rodriguez has created a near-sensory experience through stunning visuals and his distinct ability to twist a story.
Tickets to the screenings of "C#CKFIGHT" on 18 and 21 January 2014 are available online. You can also purchase tickets for tonight, 10 January 2014, as part of the Extrême CinémaThèque series at La Cinémathèque de Toulouse in Toulouse, France.
Images courtesy of Shayna Batya