The scenes you see in Metamorphosis span the planet and are at once devastating, in the record they provide of global warming’s destruction of the environment, and heart-lifting, in showing the ways that the human imagination drives survival.
Metamorphosis is the term for a biological process — an animal’s growth and maturation — during which time the creature’s physical structure can radically change; from egg to butterfly, for instance. Velcrow Ripper and his co-director and life partner Novi Ami, gave that name to their extraordinary film, now on the western leg of its Canadian launch, because when they started thinking about this film, they were inspired by the life cycle of a monarch butterfly.
Their documentary, shot on a grand, cinematic scale, charts the ways in which humans and other life forms are adapting to their changed environment and undergoing a kind of metamorphosis.
“We can move this paradigm,” says Ripper, speaking of losses due to climate change. “But we have to figure out how to live in a symbiotic relationship [with changed conditions on earth]. And part of that shift is a cultural shift, a psychological and emotional shift and artists are part of that shift.”
Scientists, thinkers, writers, artists and architects became their collaborators and provided the narrative heard in voiceovers.
“Something going from one state to another that you couldn’t have anticipated,” says Sue Halpern, author of Four Wings and a Prayer, about metamorphosis. “We actually have a choice about what that metamorphosis looks like.”
Robert J. Lifton, psychiatrist and author of The Climate Swerve, reminds us we are capable of redirecting our imaginations to confront climate truths, thus replicating a form of metamorphosis in the service of human evolution.
On a budge of just under $1-million (“We use our resources wisely,” says Ami), the couple embarked on the project as co-writers and directors around the same time their son Phoenix was conceived. Now three-and-a-half years old, the little guy accompanied his parents through some of the most challenging shoots of the project.
With curiosity as their guide, Ripper and Ami made some amazing discoveries, as they travelled from the Philippines, where Typhoon Haiyan had struck, killing more than 6,000 people, to Milan, Venice, Toronto, where Alpha school students were working on a project to provide plants for migrating butterflies to stock up on, to several locations in North and Central America.
In the American southwest, they met Dennis McClung, founder and CEO of Garden Pool. He and his helpers are converting swimming pools that no one can fill anymore because of drought, into backyard biospheres, where with the right tweaking, plant and animal life can thrive.
“We wanted to offer the film as a poem,” says Ami. Seamlessly integrated into the film, is the work of artists such as Jean-Paul Bourdier, photographer, painter and performance director and creator of an arresting scene near the opening of the documentary, shows painted bodies on a sandy beach.
Sculptor Jason DeCaires Taylor sinks his statues in the ocean, so they become the sites of coral gardens and other marine life colonies.
Michael Reynolds, a New Mexico architect, is interviewed at the site of one of his Earthships, passive, self-sufficient, solar houses, designed to look as if they grew out of the earth they sit on. “If we could make it so that every human on this planet has everything they need, without anything centralized,” he says, “. . . . all of a sudden, stress is gone. Humans would morph into their next phase of evolution.”
Metamorphosis opens with a caterpillar (“we’re like that,” says one commentator, “eating everything in sight”) and then we see the chrysalis, the emerging butterfly. At the end of the documentary, some very tricky photography captures the thousands of monarch butterflies at the end of their winter migration to Mexico. The words of Homero Aridjis, Mexican poet and environmentalist, are subtitled on the screen. Layered one on top of another on a big tree trunk, the butterflies, he says, “are like a single organism,” trembling with life.
Metamorphosis screenings with Nova Ami and Velcrow Ripper presenting:
June 20, Globe Cinema, Calgary; June 22, Metro Cinema, Edmonton; June 24, Cinecenta, UVic, Victoria; June 26, Vancity Theatre, Vancouver
Photo of work by Jean-Paul Bourdier courtesy of the National Film Board