Dir. Tessa Moran and Ben Crosbie, USA/Mexico, 2017, 70 min
The grandeur and fragility of the monarch butterfly, threatened with extinction, nudges viewers towards a reckoning with the sustainability of life itself in Ben Crosbie and Tessa Moran’s gently persuasive documentary. The butterflies’ survival depends on the forest in central Mexico, which is itself under threat by illegal logging. The film draws a none-too-subtle parallel between the indigenous community in Donaciano Ojeda that is committed to defending the butterflies’ habitat and the species itself: Both are barely hanging in the balance.
The film lovingly renders the intertwined fates of the butterflies and the community of Donaciano Ojeda by weaving the story of the butterflies’ annual migration, from Mexico up to Canada and then back again, with the life of the community through a full year. Although Donaciano Ojeda comes across as an almost an idyllic example of cooperation and simplicity rich in multigenerational camaraderie and tradition, there are unsettling currents: Some community members would like to cash in and log the land. Others, like Santos, who ekes out a living raising trout and an unreliable avocado orchard, see the wisdom in preserving the forest. Community members pitch in to help with reforestation, and even patrol the forest with rifles to guard against poachers. As the butterflies make their majestic return around the time of Dia de los Muertos, it seems the preservationists are prevailing. The children — seen throughout the film feeding trout, transplanting seedlings, playing soccer and enacting a nativity play — are the reason. “That’s why the sacrifice we make is worth it,” Santos observers. “And we’re going to continue to leave them something.”
The Guardians screens April 23 at 5 p.m. at Hanesbrands Theatre. Co-director Tessa Moran attends the screening.