Patricia Nell Warren

The Butterfly Circus (review and video)

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | March 13, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Media
Tags: Josh Weigel, The Butterfly Circus

"One of the best short films I've ever seen." The other day, that's how an artist friend of mine described The Butterfly Circus when he emailed me the link to it. I hopped over to YouTube to view this 20-minute film, and instantly agreed.

Written/produced/directed by Joshua Weigel, with a strong cast and solid production values, the 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 the Doorpost Project's $100,000 grand prize in a 2009 short-film competition. The prize was awarded by viewer votes, not a jury of critics.

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

The story follows a charismatic showman named Mr. Mendes as he takes his unique little circus across a poverty-stricken rural America during the Great Depression. Its performers are people who have taken their dark past or physical disability and turned it into a triumph of personal acceptance and pride in themselves. Along the way, Mendes and his group encounter a quadriplegic named Will who is traveling with a carnival sideshow. The carnival bills Will as a "perversion of nature -- a man whom God himself turned his back on." Will clearly believes this about himself.

What happens when Will meets the Butterfly Circus? Watch this extraordinary film and find out. The story translates to any human situation including LGBT. Indeed, there's a moment when you see two of the male Butterfly performers dancing together.

See it at the website of the DoorPost Project.

Or catch it at Youtube, where it has Spanish subtitles

Part 1:

Part 2:

Butterfly Circus also has its own Facebook page

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I really loved the story, it was really beautiful.

However, I was a little upset that Eduardo Verastegui who campaigned for Prop 8 is the lead (then again it is a short film directed/starting Christians).

I wont let him ruin it though.

I cried for goodness sake and it felt good.

I agree, Mike. I'm not happy either to learn this about Verastegui. But sometimes an actor's performance can transcend his or her politics. This is one of those times, I think.

WOW! Simply beautiful. Wonderful. Truly a gem.

I saw this video about a year ago and love it. The lead actor is Mexican and made anti-gay promos for Mexican television.

Do you mean he made pro prop8 promos for U.S. spanish-language television stations?

He's not even a U.S. citizen who made promos to take rights away from U.S. citizens, it's disgusting.

Regan DuCasse | March 14, 2010 4:00 PM

I am a former Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus dancer and aerialist. I also rode trick elephants bareback for Gunther Gebel Williams. I was always a "Red Show" girl each time I toured with the show.

And several of these players are friends of mine. Especially the oldest gentleman, Bob Yerkes, a long time stuntman/actor and the godfather of many stunt players here in Hollywood.
So glad you enjoyed this.
It is beautiful and a wonderful message. I'll pass it along.

I found the original film at Doorpost Films.

The lead actor, Nick Vujicic is an Australian motivational/inspirational speaker.

It's a beautifully done piece with a wonderful message, stands independently as artful and inspiring.

Poking around the edges, there seem to be a number of creators, producers, and organizations self-identified as some form of purpose-driven, family-friendly, inspirational, connected with it.

Doorpost Film Project's first mission is seeking truth, without spelling that out more specifically. It's got the support of at least a few young Christian filmmakers.

Joshua and Rebekah Weigel are named as faith-based filmmakers in some venues. After Butterfly Circus, he was cast as a youth pastor in To Save A Life, which crafts an inspirational message about preventing teen suicide. That film has been reviewed as being not over-the-top Christian and portraying some gritty real-life issues in ways that some faith-based audiences might find uncomfortable.

As wonderful as Butterfly Circus is, I don't mind scratching beneath the surface to ask questions. Was the momentary scene of the two men dancing intended to be affirming, or to create a misleading impression, or something in between? If churches or youth rallies used the film to treat being lgbt as one more challenge to be overcome, would they have a problem with that? If a GSA wanted to screen it to inspire lgbt youth to live fully and honestly, would the filmmakers support that?

I'm not a cynic about Christianity; I've known some really great folks who are relatively conservative. At the same time, I don't want to be naive about soft-focus faith-based work. Like appreciating beautiful passages in the Bible, I can appreciate the work of Christian artists with a careful, critical eye.

Questions about this are good. I don't mind the Christian connection as long as they aren't hiding an ex-gay connection, or a New Apostolic Reformation connection.

The brief scene of two men dancing together indicated -- to me, anyway -- that the Butterfly Circus was accepting of them.

The value of the questions increases for me after poking around a little more.

First, details about the The Doorpost Film Project:

Next, data points related to Josh and Rebekah Weigel, the filmmakers.

  • In an audio interview at the Divine Intervention blog, Josh reported that the foundation of his current faith was established during a year spent in a Master's Commission Discipleship Training program. He and Rebekah met there. Soon after, he served as a youth pastor for 3 years.
  • He cited LA and Hollywood (paraphrasing here) as a place that isn't safe, where dangers are so obvious, the wasteland that it is, knowing the effect it has on the world. The attraction to filmmaking for him is the opportunity to influence the world in more positive ways.
  • Master's Commission was founded in the 80s in AZ and been franchised around the country in the decades since.
  • In 2008, Master's Commission was made prominent by Sarah Palin, along with its ties to the Third Wave Movement / New Apostolic Reformation, as documented by Rachel Tabachnick at Talk To Action.

And, how about some of the other participants in and supporters of the film?

  • Nick Vujicic, the star of the film, travels the globe as a Christian evangelist, founder of his own ministry, leading stadium-sized revivals, as described at his site. He has appeared on Pat Robertson's 700 Club, with James Robison, and other TV evangelists. He speaks of bringing 200,000 people to Christ. He's a gifted communicator, and he's also as black-and-white as anyone about there being only one proper, literal, interpretation of the Bible with no hint of gray.
  • Eduardo Verástegui's conversion to conservative Christianity in 2003, subsequent shift in career focus, and later support for Prop 8 have been covered widely.
  • Randy Thomasson, as well as numerous other conservative Christians, lauded the film free of any caveats about the dancing scene between the two men.
  • In the audio interview, Josh Weigel mentions that the $30K they won by becoming finalists was used as seed money for garnering investors/donors to make the 20-minute film, and they were thrilled with how richly they were rewarded.

Taking all of this into account, I'd be happy to be proven wrong, but the dancing scene looks calculated and contrived to give a gay guy like me a misleading impression. It just isn't plausible that an lgbt-tolerant, much less gay-affirming, vibe was present during casting or on the set of this film.

The Weigels wouldn't have been fund-raising in any gay-friendly circles, they would have sold it as the cloaking of a vivid Christian message which might even bring lgbt folks to Christ. Vujicic wouldn't have committed to a project which might dilute his evangelical work. Thomasson wouldn't have glowed about the film apart from assurances that the creative team was anti-gay.

It's still a brilliant piece, like my favorite Psalm. It's just safe to assume that it will be sometimes be used to tell gay youth that their great struggle can yield to a glorious straight triumph.

Thanks for doing this digging. At this point I agree with you 100 percent about the film, and the dancing scene. Brilliant but subversive piece of work.

Isn’t the world a beautiful place when skinny people and fat people, midgets and stilters, fags and Christians create together? I love it!
My name is Eros Biox, I played the Stilt-walker in “The Butterlfy Circus” and I am a big ole flamboyant gay clown. I’d just like to say, for the record. On set, my unique presence was always greeted with gratitude and appreciation. I never thought I’d hear myself say the words “I love working with Christians”. The shocking truth is that it was my favorite part about the project. It’s unusual to find such a compassionate, caring, good intentioned crowd in Hollywood. Specifically and in the strong spirit of “The Butterfly Circus”, I would like to acknowledge the unique gifts that Josh, Rebekah and Nick all share, as Christians, with their uplifting presence and ability to inspire me, without trying to change or condemn me.
And finally, I’d like to confirm that no Fags were harmed in the making of this film!
OH! and, I don't want to come off as bitchy,
but in regards to the comments about the dancing scene???? REALLY??
Oh grrl....
look for suffering and you will find it!

Dear Eros:

I saw this short at the Echo Park film center last night - and I can't say I walk away from the film with same enthusiasm. As a matter of fact I was shocked to see it posted on this site. Nick Vujicic is a fundamentalist christian missionary who is traveling the globe promoting a literal interpretation of the bible. I have yet to see biblical literalists not interpret the bible as anti-gay (all the while completely ignoring literal interpretations like Jesus' quotes, "Slaves, obey your earthly masters." "Never lend money with interest." "A christian may never divorce, and if they remarry - the children of such a union are bastards." And what did Jesus say about gay people? Absolutely nothing - though you'd have a pretty tough time getting a fundamentalist christian like Nick to admit that.

Yes. I saw the Strongman dance with the older man. Did you specifically ask the filmmakers (One of which was wearing a "Jesus is my homeboy." shirt to the screening.) If they meant part of their message to be a plea for compassionate understanding of gay persons? If that is so, it strikes me as quite curious that they would choose an actor (Eduardo Verastegui) to play the Jesus archetype in the film who had spoken hate about gay people and their relationships during the Proposition 8 campaign.

Fundamentalist chrisitanity has long revealed itself as a religion based on rigidity and intolerance that leads to anger and sometimes even violence. Since this knowledge has leaked into the mainstream, it has been VERY important for them to "rebrand" as kind, feel-good loving people who don't spread misinformation in order to promote their agenda. (Like, well - Nick's promotion of a book on his website that preaches against the Theory of Evolution. Or in a more popular example - the "Purpose Driven Life" fad that is simply another rebranding of the same fundamentalist screed.) It is possible that part of the film is intended to promote the aspect of Jesus' authentic mission: That he spent the majority of his time with the outcasts and the rejects, the ones that were laughed at or treated as freaks, instructing them how to find the "Kingdom within," and that this message applies to GLBTQ persons as well. But with the company that THIS filmmaker keeps, I think it is quite unlikely.

I am much more inclined to think that it is a sugar coated agenda-driven piece that aims to preach beyond the choir to convert people (like GLBTQ persons) to fundamentalist christianity. And irony of ironies - fundamentalist christianity's message to GLBTQ persons is the exact OPPOSITE of Jesus' message. That you AREN'T good enough as a GLBTQ person. You have to "change." You have to deny who you truly are in order to be on the team. God's love is unconditional. Except in your case.

Just before this short another short was shown which was very moving and much more relevant to GLBTQ persons. It was a documentary about deaf persons in India. One of the most important things they wanted to say about their life experience was that they did not feel 'handicapped' or inferior because of their deafness. They understood that in some ways that they are pushed to the margins because of their deafness. But they celebrated who they are and they felt (in some instances) that God made them deaf. And attempts to 'convert' them to hearing people by installing cochlear implants weren't only ineffective from a medical standpoint, they were wrong from a moral standpoint because it was an attempt to play God - an attempt to change who they really were inside and how they experienced the world.

If you truly want to experience what Jesus' message is to GLBTQ persons, I recommend this documentary. See the Filmmaker's Alliance website monthly magazine for more info.

Can you (who ?) just enjoy the film for the 'film' and realize that it is wonderful from a basic 'everyman/womans/ children's perspective?

-Also to all the critic's.. do something yourself.
See if you can actually get something finished as a piece of art.. in any way shape or form, instead of merely 'commenting' on it, as if you have ever 'created' anything yourself.