Ay Mariposa is an upcoming documentary film highlighting local advocacy to protect wildlife in the Rio Grande Valley. Led by an all-women production team, the film will be screening at Cine El Rey on Monday, April 22nd, at 6:30pm.
Gisela Zuniga, a Digital Content Producer with Neta, interviewed director Krista Schlyer about the making of the film, crafting underrepresented narratives, and how it will make an impact on future border policy.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
On Creating the Film
Gisela: Would you mind telling me a little bit about yourself, and how you came to be on the project?
Krista: Sure. For a little bit over the past 10 years I’ve been documenting the U.S.-Mexico border, all 2000 miles of its people, communities, and wildlife, and how the border wall is impacting its regions. I’ve worked all along the border which is about 2000 miles. So most of that has been photography and writing. I have a book, Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall that came out 2012, and I have traveled around the country and in Congress to speak about this topic.
Gisela: What would you say were the origins of this particular film?
Krista: I attended two protests against the border wall in August 2017, one at La Lomita Chapel and another at Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge. I met Zulema at the Santa Ana protest, and in the brief conversations we had, I realized she had a powerful story that people in the rest of the country could learn so much from.
Some filmmaker friends and I started the film in November 2017, focusing on Zulema’s story and that of Marianna Treviño Wright, who runs the National Butterfly Center. Both of their lives, and how they grapple with the increasing border militarization, demonstrates how much of a harmful and direct impact border policy has on the community here in the Valley. Along the way we decided to add a third character, the North American Butterfly. By focusing on the butterfly’s life cycle and challenge to survive in this world, we weaved the story of local wildlife with the stories of Marianna and Zulema.
Gisela: It’s incredible the magic that can happen when you connect with someone at a protest. It seems like the rest just progressed so naturally.
Gisela: Why did you choose to follow these three specific stories for the film’s narrative, especially that of the butterfly?
Krista: I was really interested in illustrating the story of people with the story of non-human species. I started thinking a lot more about butterflies as a symbol of the wild, of vulnerability. They are something people don’t ever think of as being impacted by physical barriers, because they can fly. The wall blocks their migratory path, just as it does for human beings, which only highlights the connection between the human and natural world. They’re a fragile species, but also resilient and so very dependent on this land.
Gisela: Definitely. That makes perfect sense because the Rio Grande Valley is a place where the land reflects the people: resilient, hearty, surviving and thriving under tough conditions, in every possible sense. When people think of wildlife along the border, they wouldn’t think of something as delicate and whimsical as butterflies. They’re almost childlike creatures, just full of joy and light and free. I feel like having that as a metaphor is powerful because it portrays the Valley in a different light, that our community here is also joyous and light and happy and free, despite everything going on.
Krista: Yeah, exactly. Absolutely. I think the other thing is that there’s the media and political hysteria, the false narrative that surrounds the border. Because it’s been perpetuated for so long by politicians, that narrative has become almost truth to people who live far away from the border. However, people who live on the border, people who spend time on the border, know that it’s one of the safest places in the United States. I like the idea of representing this place, that has been misrepresented as violent, through a very gentle, whimsical, lovely creature like the butterfly.
Making Ay Mariposa
Gisela: Is there anything that you wish you could have included in the film but couldn’t due to time constraints or other limitations?
Krista: Definitely! Because we started the film in November 2017, so much was happening with border policy and border wall construction. We worked as fast as we possibly could to get the film done because we wanted it to be out in the world. But because of that, we couldn’t do a lot of things we wanted to include. There are so many stories we learned from Marianna and Zulema I wish we could have represented in the film, but didn’t have the time or budget to do [such as Marianna’s conservative political views from before Trump was elected, and how they have changed during his administration.] In reality, each one of these characters could have been their own feature length film all on their own. We hope to share some of these stories at film screenings, when we can directly speak with audiences.
Gisela: It takes a village of people, and village of resources, to make films happen, so how did your team make it happen for Ay Mariposa?
Krista: The film would have not happened at all if it hadn’t just been for the passion of the two cinematographers and editors that I’m working with. It’s been this very long and hard labor of love. We’re hoping to find funding to be able to reimburse ourselves for a little bit of the work, but also to get the film out into the world and create tools for audiences to become engaged with this issue. We’re also very grateful for a lot of in-kind donations from Valley community members, such as lodging and food. It’s been a mix of all sorts of avenues to reduce costs.
Gisela: What did you shoot the film on, and how are you editing it?
Krista: We used Sony Mirrorless Cameras for the majority of filming, with a bit of the earlier filming done with a Canon 5D Mark IV. We also have a little bit of drone footage, too. All of the editing was done in Adobe Premiere.
Gisela: In what ways have you involved the local RGV community in being a part of the filmmaking process?
Krista: Zulema’s story comes from interviews that we did with her and her daughter. From those recordings, we visually recreated the memories of her life. We worked with different members of her family to play the roles of her at younger ages, being a migrant worker from Mexico who came to the Valley, and to play the role of her husband when he was young. Almost their whole family was involved in the making of these scenes. The staff at the National Butterfly Center played a big role in doing the same visual memory recreation with Marianna and her story, particularly of the past year and a half of her fight with Border Patrol. These are just two examples of collaboration with folks from the Valley.
Inspiring Action and Making an Impact
Gisela: What do you hope the local Valley community will take from the film?
Krista: I hope that the film can be something that energizes the local anti-border wall resistance efforts led community members and activists. To affirm that they are being heard here and all over the country, and to let them know that they have partners in this fight, because it’s not over yet.
Gisela: There’s so much emotion around this particular issue [of border militarization] because it’s been going on forever, but the way that it’s erupting now is so unique to this particular moment in time. Seeing your work be uplifted and celebrated in film can be so affirming, so I definitely look forward to the local screening here. That’ll be really special.
Krista: Yeah, me too.
Gisela: On a related note, what do you hope that people outside of the Rio Grande Valley will take from the film?
Krista: I hope the film can help dispel and correct some of the misinformation spread about this region. Equally important is to create a sense of empathy for what people and wildlife are going through at the border, and foster a sense of solidarity with the community fighting this on the front lines, to hopefully inspire action from our audiences anywhere they might be.
I keep hearing from members of Congress that because their constituents don’t care about this issue, they choose to keep funding border militarization. My number one goal is to encourage people, no matter where they live, to call their government representatives and tell them they don’t want this wall to be built.
Gisela: What are your plans to distribute this film, so that it can reach as many people as possible?
Krista: We’re going to take a number of different approaches to that. One of them will be focusing on film festivals. By reaching audiences throughout the U.S., we can directly encourage them to reach out to their members of Congress. We also hope to create a downloadable or physical film festival package. This package would provide anyone a copy of the film to host grassroots screenings wherever they may be, and resources for taking action once they’ve seen the film. We are also considering reaching out to broadcast outlets, like PBS, or streaming services like Netflix. Lastly, we’ll be hosting a series of events on Capitol Hill and in Washington, D.C., to share with people who directly make decisions on border policy.
Gisela: It’s hard to see the impact when you’re thousands of miles away. So you’re bringing it to them, literally to their faces.
Krista: Yeah exactly.
Make sure to attend the Ay Mariposa screening on Monday, April 22nd, at Cine El Rey, 7:00pm!
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