Ay Mariposa Film
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Photo: Krista Schlyer

Photo: Krista Schlyer

Will the border wall strike a fatal blow to one of richest natural and cultural regions in North America?

Ay Mariposa tells a story of three characters in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas whose lives are upended by plans to build a US-Mexico border wall. As the director of the National Butterfly Center, Marianna Trevino Wright has become a leader of wall resistance in the Valley, a position that has resulted in violent threats from pro-wall factions and an emotional odyssey as she tries to navigate the ever-shifting sands of border policy. Zulema Hernandez, a life-long migrant worker, immigrant and great grandmother, has been a dedicated advocate for all migrants, both wild and human-kind. Meanwhile the butterfly, la mariposa, fights its own daily battle for survival in a landscape where more than 95 percent of its habitat is long gone and much of what remains lies directly in the path of the wall. Ay Mariposa documents each characters’ fierce commitment to home, justice, wild beauty and the future of the US-Mexico borderlands.

CHARACTERS

 
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ZULEMA

Zulema Hernandez A 77-year-old Mexican-American and former migrant farm worker.

In August 2017, Zulema donned her leopard print blouse, gathered her walker and her daughter Juventina, and headed to a protest march in Mission, Texas. Her body pained by 40 years of farm labor, and leaning heavily on her walker, Zulema would march almost four miles in the Texas summer sun to stand in protest against the border wall with thousands of her borderlands neighbors. She walked and gave her quiet voice to the cause, and then rested. The next day she was out again, standing on the Rio Grande levee, fighting against the construction of wall on the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge–one of the most biologically important refuges in the nation. When asked why she was there Zulema replied: “If the wall is built, where will the butterflies go?”

 

MARIANNA

Marianna Trevino Wright - Director of the National Butterfly Center, a private preserve protecting a rare remnant butterfly community.

In July 2017, Marianna found federal contractors clearing land and planting stakes on the center’s property along the Rio Grande. She demanded to know what they were doing, was given no answer, but subsequently learned they were paving the way for a 30-foot barrier that would amputate two-thirds of the center’s property and leave a no-man’s-land between the border wall and the Rio Grande. Marianna and the Butterfly Center hired a lawyer and prepared themselves for a bitter fight to save a lifetime of work and one of the most important habitats for butterflies in North America.

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LA MARIPOSA

La Mariposa - The Butterfly. The Soul.

In May 2018, a red-bordered pixie butterfly took shape in a tiny pale chrysalis upon the silver bark of a guamuchil tree standing less than 100 feet from the Rio Grande levee, the would-be site of the future border wall on National Butterfly Center land. Over the next few days the pixie chrysalis would lighten to transparency as the pixie inside prepared itself for first-flight. Nearby, a bordered patch caterpillar devoured a ragweed leaf, readying itself for metamorphosis, while a monarch butterfly flew a nectar circuit, fueling up for its journey across North America. For the pixie, bordered patch, monarch and the 340 other butterfly species that can be found on the Butterfly Center and in the South Texas borderlands region–everything depends on the success or failure of Marianna and Zulema’s fight. For the ancient Greeks, the word for butterfly, psyche, was the same as the word for soul. This character, la mariposa, will float at the foundation of this film, a symbol of the deepest connotations of a border wall as structure and symbol.


 

TEAM

A collaboration between three award-winning women filmmakers: Krista Schlyer, Jenny Nichols and Morgan Heim.

Between these three women, they have worked with National Geographic, BBC, Smithsonian, Audubon and Nature Conservancy on projects with a global reach; they have screened at Hotdocs, SIFF, Telluride Mountainfilm, Banff, Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival; and their honors include an Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography, a National Outdoor Book Award and numerous film honors.

 
 
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KRISTA SCHLYER, Director

For more than a decade, Krista’s work has focused heavily on documenting the US-Mexico borderlands and the changes brought about by US border and immigration policy. Her book about the borderlands titled Continental Divide: Wildlife, People and the Border Wall, received national recognition with the National Outdoor Book Award for 2013 and the “Best of the Best” of university presses honor from the American Library Association. A senior fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers, her stories have appeared in a wide array of outlets including Audubon, BBC, National Parks and The Nature Conservancy. She is a past winner of the Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography and Vision Award from the North American Nature Photographers Association.

Website: kristaschlyer.com

Instagram: @krista_schlyer


JENNY NICHOLS, DP & Editing

Founder of Pongo Media, Jenny harnesses the power of visual media to tell stories, creating films that will act as tipping points in conservation campaigns. She has documented the stories of migration, women cyclists and refugees from Afghanistan, ultramarathoners that redefine our image of world-class athletes, and the incredible, Arctic journey of a climate change artist. Her critically-acclaimed films include Colors of Change, Elk River, The Mirnavator, and Afghan Cycles. Jenny works with National Geographic, World Wildlife Fund, REI, Patagonia, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and Sea Legacy, and her films have screened at HotDocs, Seattle International Film Festival, Brooklyn Film Festival, Telluride Mountainfilm, Banff Mountainfilm Festival, and many more.

Website: pongomediaproductions.com

Instagram: @jennygnichols

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MORGAN HEIM, DP & Editing

Morgan raises a camera to capture moments in an animal’s life that make us consider what that life means. Inevitably, those stories involve people as much as wildlife. She has covered such subjects as drug-cartel impacts on national forests to deer migrations, and wildlife endeavoring to survive on our roadways. Her work has appeared in Smithsonian, Newsweek, BBC, Discover and BioGraphic, with films in Telluride Mountain Film, Banff and Wild & Scenic among others. Her film collaboration, The Snow Guardian, went viral on National Geographic and was honored in the Film4Climate Competition during COP22. Also a senior fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers, she has been recognized in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Big Picture Natural World competitions for her conservation photography.

Website: morganheim.com

Instagram: @moheim