‘Black Butterflies’ Director David Baute on the Annecy Climate Crisis Movie: ‘We Tried to Put a Human Face to This Drama’

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David Baute’s searing animated climate crisis drama “Black Butterflies” (“Mariposas Negras”) bows to audiences at Annecy this week, competing in its Contrechamp strand alongside Isabel Herguera title “Sultana’s Dream.”

Based on Baute’s live-action inquiry, “Climate Exodus,” the film merges highly intimate and personal narratives from women across the globe forced to leave their homelands when natural forces render them uninhabitable. Baute and scriptwriter Yaiza Berrocal teamed with art director María Pulido (“Ámome”) and production designer and animation director José Sanchez Alonso (“Run Ozzy Run”) to dutifully curate the narrative and images.

“For nearly 10 years we’ve followed stories of forced emigration that occur worldwide due to climate issues. This work opened up many possibilities for us when conceiving the script. It was more a job of grooming than conceiving new sequences, we tried to incorporate those other layers that the film has, that make the viewer approach the drama of these women in a frank way, knowing the harsh reality faced by those who lose their origin, since they’ll always be emigrants with no place to return, their homes have disappeared,” Baute tells Variety.

Delicate 2D animation is informed by art from regions the film depicts-the Caribbean, India, and the Turkana County. Rich textures and dreamy watercolors draw the viewer into the scene as the score, compiled by Diego Navarro, ranges from ambient and ethereal, to ancestral, to employing acoustic hand-strung guitar chords.

Grammy Award-winning Panamanian musician and activist Rueben Blades also crafted an exclusive song for the project, which co-producer Ikiru’s Edmon Roch credits with “helping to give greater flight to our film.”

The eloquent techniques clarify the women’s separate journeys while fusing the pain, fear and underlying trauma that bind them together. Suggesting that while these catastrophes seem to play out far afield, their ramifications are widespread and closer to home than most admit.

“The stories have a common narrative link but, when traveling through diverse geographies, it was necessary to generate an atmosphere in each location, so that each of our protagonists had their own identity based on the color treatment,” Baute explains.

“The previous documentary shoots in each of the stories have been an inspiring source in the artistic production of the film, generating a direct relationship with the protagonists in its pictorial language that differentiates them from each other and makes them unique,” he adds. “This work of dialogue between animation and the artistic department was very important for the film to move inherently, and this was thanks to the joint work of the animation direction by Pepe Sánchez and the artistic direction of María Pulido.”

“We believed that Diego Navarro’s soundtrack should unify each of the stories. Although we used nuances in the musical instrumentation linked to each territory, we started from a main score that made the film cohesive, and then fed and accompanied each portrait of life. Added to this was the special work of sound design, by the Coser y Cantar team, which finishes cementing the soundtrack and gives another weight to the film, very important in animation productions,” he adds.

Following  protagonists Lobuin, Vanesa and Soma as they’re displaced from their serene rural lives to find their way amidst cramped urban sprawls, the hopeless trudge toward uncertainty and yearning weighs heavy on screen from the first gut-wrenching separation to the simmering anxiety of forging a fresh start. The only coping mechanism comes by way of folk stories they relate-Soma’s memories of the tale of Hindu deity Ganesha, the god of beginnings, is especially poignant.

Navigating an impossible labyrinth of government bureaucracy, abuse and furthered poverty, the women also face the consequences of hyper-tourism, corporate greed and a stigma unfairly piled at their feet after they’ve been stripped of their dignity, community and identities. The oft-oversaturated topic is handled with a nuance that compels audiences to walk away enlightened rather than apathetic.

“The film addresses a topic as important and timely as it is urgent: climate change and its impact on the most disadvantaged people who suffer from it without having contributed to it, but it does so in a way that we’ve not seen before: through animation, and based on the story of three real women who become characters without ceasing to be people,” Roch stated.

An apt endeavor, the film turns the climate crisis from clickbait headline fodder to a crucial story of universal concern, kindling for a larger conversation about the maelstrom that will inevitably continue to affect a large swath of the population.

“I consider myself a documentary filmmaker, in fact I believe that ‘Black Butterflies’ is a documentary that uses the technique of 2D animation to tell our story. In our documentaries and in ‘Black Butterflies,’ the socio-environmental issue is always linked, understanding cinema not only as a poetic art to express our fears and hopes, but as an instrument to generate reflection on urgent issues that affect us as living beings that we must integrate into a natural environment,” said Baute.

He concluded: “On the environmental and climate issue, we hear such disparate testimonies every day from experts, politicians, citizens, that it’s already beginning to generate a certain fatigue in the population, and this is very dangerous: the climate issue must be the central issue of concern, since our lives are at stake. For this reason, we’ve tried to put a face to this drama, which is also the leading cause of migration in the world, and help generate a deeper debate about the urgent current situation of the world’s climate crisis.”

“Black Butterflies” is an inspired co-production between Ikiru Films (“Tad, The Lost Explorer”), Tinglado Film (“Ona”), Panama’s Tunche Films (“Ainbo: Spirit Of The Amazon”), Anangu Grup (“Mummies”) and Catalan Corporation of Mitjans Audiovisuals.

The film received additional support from Spanish pubcaster RTVE, state TV operator 3Cat in Catalonia, Public Television of the Canary Islands and Mogambo, with financing from Spain’s Ministry of Culture-ICAA, and support from ICEC-Department of Culture-Generalitat de Catalunya as well as the government of the Canary Islands and the Island Council of Tenerife.