Beauty on the Wing ~ Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly
Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly is a 56 minute narrated film that unfolds along the shores of Cape Ann and in the heart of Mexico’s forested volcanic mountains. Every stage of the butterfly’s life cycle is experienced in vibrant close-up, from mating to egg to caterpillar to adult, and set against the backdrop of sea and forest, sun and wind.
By the millions and millions the intrepid monarchs journey thousands of miles. The most magical thing is that this migration happens in our midst, unfolding in backyards, farms, meadows, and along the shoreline, wherever milkweed and wildflowers grow.
No other butterflies in the world journey thousands of miles over such a vast area. Monarchs do not see borders, religion, ethnicities, or political differences. They are a symbol of unity, ecologically linking Canada and Mexico, and nearly every region within the United States.
The Monarchs are in great peril. Although the butterfly’s spectacular migration evolved over millennia, the last decades of human activity have put this phenomenon in grave danger. Beauty on the Wing is a film for all ages, created for all to gain a deeper understanding of the symbiotic relationship between habitats, wildflowers, and pollinators, and the vital role they play in our interconnected ecosystems.
Filmed in Gloucester, Massachusetts and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserves at Estado de México and Michoacán, the film illuminates how two regions, separated by thousands of miles, are ecologically interconnected.
Music score by Jesse Cook. Songs: “Fields of Blue,” “You,” “El Cri,” and “Afternoon at “Saties. All music written by Jesse Cook; Jesse Cook Music publishing. Link to Cook’s website: jessecook.com/.
With love and gratitude to butterfly kids (in order of appearance) Pilar Davis, Meadow Anderson, Lotus Marsh, Frieda Davis, Zoie Dickinson, Atticus Anderson, Emma Duckworth, George Ryan, Charles Ryan, Eloise Ciaramitaro, Madeline Ciaramitaro, Annie Kate Convey, April Smith, Charlie Convey, Elijah Sarrouf, Esme Sarrouf, and Charlotte Hauck.
Filmmakers Collaborative Interview with Michael Azevedo
“Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly” is a 56 minute narrated film, directed by FC member Kim Smith, that unfolds along the shores of Cape Ann and in the heart of Mexico’s forested volcanic mountains. Every stage of the butterfly’s life cycle is experienced in vibrant close-up, from mating to egg to caterpillar to adult, and set against the backdrop of sea and forest, sun and wind. “Beauty on the Wing” was recently screened as part of the 2020 New Haven Documentary Film Festival and will soon be distributed online and for educational use by American Public Television Worldwide.
Kim Smith is a documentary filmmaker, environmental conservationist, photojournalist, author, illustrator and an award winning landscape designer. We recently chatted with her about her path to becoming a filmmaker and her passion the natural beauty to be found on the northern coast of Massachusetts.
How did you come be a filmmaker?
I love writing and telling stories about people and about the wildlife found in my Cape Ann community and have for many years through books, photography, blogging, and illustrating. Filmmaking was a natural progression in a way. I am also a landscape designer and specialize in creating wildlife habitats for butterflies and birds. Through daily observation I am fortunate to witness some of the most beautiful creatures imaginable and have become spellbound by the wildlife that is found right here in our own backyards and along the shoreline, at the edge of the of the Atlantic Ocean.
How did the idea for “Beauty on the Wing” come about?
In 2006 I was photographing Monarch butterflies for a children’s book I was writing and illustrating. It was a phenomenal migration that year. The Monarchs were pouring across Massachusetts Bay and because of the wind conditions, they stayed and stayed and stayed; the butterfly’s numbers multiplied daily. I promised myself that if I were ever able to witness such an extraordinary event again, I was going to have the ability to document through film as well.
How did you go about teaching yourself to shoot and edit?
I purchased a Canon video camera and set about teaching myself how to operate the camera. I made many shorts, experimenting and learning along the way. I know how to compose shots from painting and photography and could write as well. Filmmaking combines all the things I care deeply about and love to do, which is conserving wildlife, protecting habitats, storytelling, cinematography, working with natural light, and then pulling it all together through editing.
Did you have any role models in the genre of nature documentary filmmakers?
Although not a filmmaker, I am very inspired by Rachel Carson. She was a true visionary and witness for nature. Despite great personal hardship, she wrote beautifully of our troubled environment and her work has profoundly influenced the environmental movement.
What were the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of making the film?
The most challenging aspect was fundraising. I find it very difficult to ask people and organizations for money. But I did learn that friends and followers want to be supportive and be a part of something beautiful and educational. People were very generous and gave what they could, from $5.00 to $10,000.00. I feel very fortunate to have had these kind, helping hands in making “Beauty on the Wing”.
The rewarding aspects are many. I love when the light is perfect and rich and you know you captured a scene beautifully. Or when you stand in a field for hours waiting for a butterfly to fly by in just the right direction, and it does (the opening scene, when a Monarch sails by the lighthouse). I loved especially the scenes with my ‘butterfly kids,’ and trying to capture their joy and excitement in seeing the butterflies emerge from their chrysalides. Traveling to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserves in Mexico, both trips, in 2014 and in 2019, each in their own way were memorable, rewarding, and made my film better beyond any expectation. I made life long connections and hope to return to the sanctuaries many times. Finishing Beauty on the Wing with Eric Masunaga at Modulus Studios was also deeply rewarding, to learn from his expertise, and to see the film coming together after years of documenting the Monarchs.
Do you have any particular plans for distribution?
Yes! I am very excited to share that I just signed an agreement with American Public Television World Wide for educational and online distribution, a dream come true for Beauty on the Wing!
How did you come to know about and work with FC and how has being a member benefited you as a filmmaker?
I learned about FC through my friend, fellow filmmaker, and FC member Nubar Alexanian.
Becoming a member of FC has probably been one of the greatest strokes of good fortune for my documentary. FC has handled the fiscal aspect of fundraising impeccably. I have called countless times asking Laura and Kathleen for advice and they always respond immediately. The workshops and webinars have been an invaluable aid in understanding filmmaking beyond creating the film and in learning how to launch a film out to your audience.
Ten years in the making, Kim Smith’s butterfly film takes flight
Kim Smith’s monarch movie 10 years in the making
GLOUCESTER TIMES OCTOBER 28, 2020
Every story has a back story, and Kim Smith’s back story began in her backyard.
In the mid 1990s, Smith — an award-winning landscape designer — filled her Gloucester garden with native and pollinator plantings that attract all manner of winged creatures. These, thanks to lots of milkweed, included lots of magnificent monarch butterflies. “I just loved them,” says Smith, “I wanted more and more of them.”
There began a tale that this year saw Smith complete a 10-year project, the making of the 56-minute documentary “Beauty on the Wing — Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.” In a few short months, and despite the pandemic canceling its local premiere, the film has seen its way to six film festivals, all virtual, the latest of which — the Boston International Kids Film Festival — runs Nov. 20 to 22.
American Public TV Worldwide —the world’s largest distributor of educational television has just signed the documentary for global distribution.
Armed with a handheld digital camera, an artist’s eye, and a love of her subject, Smith has captured the life, work and world of what she calls “this charismatic little creature,” beginning with its metamorphosis from a tiny egg, to its amazing annual journey from the summer shores of its Gloucester habitats to its winter habitats in the Mexican mountains and forests of Michoacán, where the monarchs annual arrival has long been regarded as something of a miracle: the returning of the souls of the dead descending from the sky in fluttering orange clouds, to roost by the millions in the trees.
When she began the project in 2006, Smith knew nothing about filmmaking. Photographing the monarchs, first as “a record,” she was urged on by family and friends. One of them, Gloucester’s late historian Joe Garland, was particularly encouraging. “Oh, I thought, I have to learn to make a film,” she recalls, of her early days learning the basics with Andrew Love and Lisa Smith at Cape Ann TV (now Studio 1623).
Investing in a hand-held HD Canon video camera, Smith began shooting digital. “It was small and so easy to use that I could crouch down, or lie down to capture extreme close-ups,” she says. Supported by community fundraising that covered the $35,000 production budget, she shot “tons of footage over the years,” wrote and recorded the narrative script, and saved on post production costs by teaching herself to digitally edit her film.
Her goal, she says, was not just to celebrate the monarch, but to educate viewers about the plight of this creature that is loved around the world. Indigenous to North America, these light, bright orange butterflies have through the centuries been blown by wind and weather to other continents, including England, where, in the late 17th century, they were named in honor of King William III of England, also known as the Prince of Orange.
In the last 20 years, however, the butterflies’ numbers have plummeted worldwide from a billion to 30 million, as the excessive use of herbicides has killed off much of their main food source —milkweed— while climate change has confused their flight patterns. And in Mexico, the logging of trees has sabotaged the delicate ecosystem of their annual return.
Smith’s film joins a growing body of environmental activism on behalf of the monarch butterfly. Gardeners across the nation have, like Smith, filled flower beds with milkweed to feed their numbers. The Obama administration, concerned by its alarming decline, allocated $3.2 million to protect it.