Independent films and short films often are made on a shoe string budget and are rarely seen by the majority of movie goers. Such films are usually praised in film festivals and then never heard from again. Thanks to the internet and websites like YouTube.com more short films are able to be distributed and seen by a larger audience. This is how I stumbled upon The Butterfly Circus (2009).
Set during the pinnacle of the great depression, Mr. Mendez (Eduardo Verástegui) the ringleader of a notorious performing troupe leads his humble circus as they travel around the devastated American countryside. The attractions in The Butterfly Circus are meant to inspire and instill hope in its audience, a much needed thing during the depression. While visiting another traveling carnival, Mr. Mendez and his troupe discover a man named Will (Nick Vujicic) with no limbs as a freak show exhibit. Will ends up running away from the carnival to join Mr. Mendez in his circus. Will is inspired by the performers in The Butterfly Circus, and starts a personal journey to find hope in his life in spite of his considerable physical limitations.
The story in The Butterfly Circus really is a formulaic “feel good” tale of hope, inspiration, and self respect. Given the synopsis above, you can probably make a remarkably accurate guess as to how the story ends. It’s fairly predictable, but it’s still not bad. It is pleasant, touching, and somewhat inspiring. Some of the circus performers were depicted as having struggles that society condemned them for; one had been a prostitute that became pregnant and then was unwanted, one was an alcoholic with a temper, and one was an old man that no one wanted around. Each overcome their trials and began inspiring others. There’s some symbolism with butterflies related to this that is a bit overt, but since the symbolism isn’t the driving force in the movie; I can forgive it.
The casting director did a great job. Eduardo Verástegui did a magnificent job of being a charismatic and dapper ringleader that sees the good in all people. The character wasn’t flashy, but his mustache and the top hat he dons makes him look so natural and charming. One of the other circus performers, Otto the contortionist, is played by Doug Jones. Jones is in a lot of major motion pictures, but is rarely seen; he plays Fauno and The Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), The Silver Surfer in Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), and Abe Sapien in Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008) and many other uncredited costumed characters. We actually get to see him in this movie. He doesn’t get many lines, but he pays the part well. This short film also introduces Nick Vujicic. Vujicic is a motivational speaker who really does have no arms or legs. This film almost seems tailor made for him; it mirrors the self respect and gratitude themes that he often speaks about. Vujicic’s acting skills need to be polished a bit more; a couple of his lines seemed a bit insincere or forced, but he overall did very good job for his first role.
The sets were impressive; they really conveyed the depression era quite well, especially with the vintage cars. The color scheme had lots of dull colors; browns, tans, oranges, and dirty yellows give it an old-timey sepia quality to the movie. This helps visually express the despair and depressed feeling that the country had during the depression. The period costumes were also very convincing. Even the bedraggled people living in tiny plywood huts were wearing tattered versions of 1930’s style clothing. All these elements combined really brought to life the depression era, even though the sets were still simplistic and small.
The Butterfly Circus is a fairly charming short film that is clean and tastefully done. It has won awards at independent and short film festivals. It is touching, and I admit it brought a tear to my eye at the end. It’s only about twenty minutes long and can be watched for free at the address below, and according to the website it is in process to becoming a feature length film in the foreseeable future. Keep an eye out for it.
Have you ever seen a really good short film? What was it and what impressed you so much about it?