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“The Butterfly Circus” by Joshua Weigel

Written by Shirley Baugher

Josh, this is a phenomenal piece of work—comparable to a Hollywood feature film! No detail was omitted and the directing, acting, locations, sound, sound design, production design, cinematography, editing, lighting and score were all amazing. This is a movie you’d go to see in a theater. Congrats on creating such a movie. Well done, you and your entire crew! ~Steve

The Butterfly Circus

By the slightest turn of the wheel, we influence the chain of events and thus recast our destiny with new cohorts, circumstances, and discoveries. – Amor Towles

Looking at the title, you might assume that this is a film about a circus sideshow of butterflies, those ethereal creatures that fly from flower to flower leaving behind a lovely memory. You would be wrong…and right. The Butterfly Circus is about beautiful creatures.  Much like the butterfly, these beautiful creatures began their lives as lesser beings who experienced a metamorphosis that revealed their innate beauty and allowed them to fly.

   

The movie opens with a view of life in the 1930s Depression Era—a procession of cars going down a road, past tar paper shacks and sad-faced people eking out an existence in the dirt of a miserable countryside—maybe Oklahoma, maybe Arkansas, maybe any state where poverty and hopelessness have taken their toll. Inside the cars are members of a traveling troupe called The Butterfly Circus on their way to the next town. When they pass a sign advertising a carnival sideshow, a little boy begs the driver to stop. At first the driver is reluctant, but he relents and they join a rag tag group lured inside by a barker’s enticements. Amid the carousel rides, the cotton candy maker and the games they find the show the crowd has really come to see, a sad assembly of “freaks” sitting behind a tent in lonely silence: the bearded lady, the Siamese twins, the tattooed man (although the number and garishness of his tattoos wouldn’t raise an eyebrow today) and the fat lady. However, the piece de resistance, “a perversion of nature and one whom God himself has turned his back on”, is the limbless man.

  

At the sight of this pitiful specimen, the gawkers gasp, laugh and pelt him with hard objects as if to show that, despite their own lowly circumstances, they are superior to this “freak”. But one man, the Showman of The Butterfly Circus, does not laugh. He walks up to the creature, takes off his top hat and says, “You are magnificent.” The limbless man, sensing another form of ridicule, spits in the Showman’s face. The barker closes the curtain. When he opens it a short time later, the limbless man is gone.

The scene shifts to another circus where the performers are laughing and dancing in an easy camaraderie. But there is a backstory. Each of them, like the limbless man, was once trapped in a cocoon of hopelessness. The dancer twirling her red chiffon wings was a prostitute thrown out of her house when she became pregnant and was no longer of any use to the madam. The elderly acrobat was a beggar, playing a hand organ on the streets. The world’s strongest man was a bar brawler punching out weaker patrons for the fun of it. When The Showman brought these outcasts together and helped them see the possibilities waiting outside their cocoons, the strong man abandoned his use of brute force and became an inspiration to those who came to admire his power.  The street beggar proved that age does not destroy agility by becoming the oldest master of the flying trapeze and the prostitute reasserted herself as a beautiful dancer and a caring mother. Eventually, the limbless man found his place in the group—not as a sideshow curiosity, but as a performer with a unique ability. His struggle is, perhaps, greater than all the rest—and his triumph the more glorious—because in his incompleteness, he emerges the most complete of all.

Moments

There are moments in this film that touch the heart with their direct simplicity. There is a hauntingly beautiful moment when The Butterfly Circus troupe: a man on stilts, an old acrobat, a dancer, a child, an escape artist, a strong man, and the Showman in his top hat; glides across the landscape in macabre splendor to Timothy Williams’ memorable musical background. It is a moment evocative of Fellini’s 1954 cinematic tour de force La Strada, in which a carnival group of beautiful grotesques embark on a journey presumably searching for the meaning of life. Fellini’s performers: Zampano, the Strong Man, (Anthony Quinn); The Fool, a circus acrobat and clown with the soul of a philosopher (Richard Basehart) and Giuletta Masina as Gelsomina, the wide-eyed waif giving what is widely considered one of the greatest performances in film history–bear a striking resemblance to Weigel’s circus. They walk to a wistful melody line played first by The Fool on a miniature violin and later by Gelsomina on the trumpet.

There are other magical moments: a moment when a black child touches the strong man’s biceps and goes away believing he can become anything he wants, a moment when a crippled boy embraces the limbless man as though he were touching the face of God and a moment when the limbless man emerges from a stream into which he has fallen with the triumphant cry, ”I can swim!”

If Fellini was his muse, Weigel has traveled further down the road and become his own maestro.

The Actors

The cast of this film is first rate. Latino celebrity Eduardo Verastegui (Bella) is debonair and sympathetic as The Showman. Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, Fantastic Four—Rise of the Silver Surfer, Hellboy II: the Golden Army, gives a wonderfully understated performance as the escape artist.  Nick Vujicic is magnificent as the limbless man. Vujicic is an international motivational and evangelistic speaker from Australia who was born without arms or legs. He received the Best Actor award for his performance as Will at the 2010 Method Fest Independent Film Festival. He has also written a book about his life called A Ridiculously Good Life (Random House 2010).

The Butterfly Effect

Weigel’s use of the butterfly to symbolize the evolution of his characters is brilliant. Like the circus members, the butterfly is a complex creature. It begins life as an egg and develops into a caterpillar—tiny, tough and one of the strongest insects of its kind. The caterpillar then enters the pupa stage in which it stops eating and spins a cocoon that sticks to a leaf with a glue so hard it cannot be separated. And finally, the miracle!  The caterpillar slips its sticky bonds and emerges a butterfly!

There is another element that makes the butterfly a perfect symbol for this film. We are familiar with the “butterfly effect” in chaos theory which states that a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences at a later state. In other words, the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can cause tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately set off a tornado in Texas. Weigel’s small masterpiece contains just such a premise. A minute change in the life of each circus member sets off a chain reaction that alters the course of their individual and collective lives and perhaps the lives of those they touch.

Be forewarned that with this film, once is not enough. You will want to see it again, and again, and again. It’s that good! The film has received over 13.5 million views online and is still increasing by around 500,000 hits per month and has been translated into 15 languages. The Butterfly Circus has won numerous awards, including Best Director at the Mammoth Film Festival and the first ever Clint Eastwood Award at the Carmel Art and Film Festival.   The Butterfly Circus is currently in development to become a feature film. To view the short film and to find out more about the feature film go to www.thebutterflycircus.com.

About Joshua Weigel

Joshua grew up in Colorado and developed a passion for movies at a young age. After completing two years of college pursuing a film degree, he shifted his focus to gaining real life experience in the entertainment industry. He moved to Los Angeles in 1998 in order to create meaningful films. He began working as a Production Assistant for the WBTV network and soon moved on to freelance production work. His creativity and eye for design propelled him to a position as Art Director on national commercials with work that included three Super Bowl spots. In 2006, his work won the coveted designation of Best Super Bowl Commercial.

Along the way, Josh directed several multi-award winning short films, culminating with his recent film, The Butterfly Circus. He is married to Rebekah Weigel who co-wrote The Butterfly Circus. Together, they have completed the screenplay for the feature length version of the film and are seeking funding for an independent production. They have three children and live in Los Angeles. Joshua is represented by CAAand Gang Tyre Ramer and Brown. Visit Josh on Facebook and on Twitter.

What They’re Saying

With its superb acting and directing—not to mention its outstanding production value and array of Depression-era props and set pieces—it is no surprise that The Butterfly Circus took the top prize. Rebecca Pahle. –MOVIEMAKER MAGAZINE

Imaginative, beautifully shot…I’m very proud to be giving this award.  -Clint Eastwood

An artist friend of mine called this one of the best short films ever.  Hopped over to YouTube to view it and instantly agreed. Written, produced, and directed by Joshua Weigel, with a strong cast and solid production values, this film got a limited release in 2009 and moved into wider release this year. But most of the flurry around “Butterfly Circus” has been online, that new frontier of indie movie release, where it has been going viral. To date, TBC has reportedly gotten 3 million views. It also won Doorpost Project’s $100,000 grand prize in a 2009 short film competition.  -Patricia Nell Warren

How did the 2010 Oscar nominations for best short film, live action, miss this gem? -DoorPost Project

It’s the week-end, so I figured we could chill a while. Here’s a 2009 short film titled “The Butterfly Circus” that’s a must-see. Directed by Joshua Weigel starrng Doug Jones, Nick Vujicic, and Eduardo Verastegui, this film reminds me of that HBO short-lived series “Carnivale, but “The Butterfly Circus” is more hopeful and beautifully shot. Rama’s Screen

To Check Out The Butterfly Circus at the Naperville Independent Film Festival, click here

Join the conversation

6 Responses to ““The Butterfly Circus” by Joshua Weigel”

  1. Jogeshwer Bal on September 18th, 2011 4:33 am

    Beautiful film. One can do what one sets ones heart to.

  2. kim te on January 27th, 2015 8:50 am

    I really love this because I can learn many things. It gave me hopes too. I slowly understand the word ‘Life is hope’.I really love this especially Nicki,who is my hope idol. Thank you for this amazing video.

  3. Debra on March 18th, 2016 12:56 am

    My daughter’s bishop in Moses Lake WA showed your film to a combined relief society sisters and mens priesthood class
    It really inspired me and I share it as often as I can. It’s my favorite short movie!! Thanks soo much! Wayne Dyer introduced me to Nick V. a few mnths before at his movie The Shift here on Maui so it was really wonderful to see Nick in the movie. Excellent job everyone!!!!

  4. seekeroftruthrfs on November 6th, 2016 7:17 am

    Thank you so much for this film as i was moved profoundly.

    I just viewed this short film for the first time and was moved to the core.

    I know how being rejected by a mother feels just for being different and it almost destroyed me.

    Like Nick, I tried to take my life but failed.
    God is now the most important Father/Mother in my life and I know I am loved unconditionally because of it.

    I can’t articulate how much this film helped me.

    I hope I could teach something similar some day. Perhaps it is the power of “HOPE” and “Love” and to never, never give up.

    This movie can be life saving.

    Nick found his calling or purpose in the heart of darkness and went back to help others.

    I plan on sharing this to inspire change whatever our struggle or hardship is.

    God bless us all!

    Truth, Wisdom, Love and Sincerity, to ALL Mankind.

    Rob Scott
    Oaxaca, Mexico

  5. Joshua Weige on November 2nd, 2017 11:12 pm

    “No matter who you are, whether you are perfect or dismantled, you can do anything if you set ones heart to” – Nicolas G.

  6. Joshua Weige on November 2nd, 2017 11:13 pm

    MA DUDES THIS WAS LIT EVEN THOUGH KONG IS BETTER

About the Author


Rachel has been with Zacuto since 2009. She began working in the sales department and moved to marketing in 2013. In her role as Digital Marketing Director she oversees the gear loan and review program, social media, blog content, zacuto.com, and works with the team on overall marketing strategy. Rachel has a BA in Theatre with a focus on Directing from Arizona State University. Those who have spoken with her on the phone know she occasionally reveals her homeland by slipping into a British accent. Rachel likes tear-jerker sports movies, reading cookbooks for pleasure, and crossword puzzles. Contact her at rachel@zacuto.com

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