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Have you ever seen a monarch butterfly flying in the sky and wonder where they all fly off to? Dr. Fred Urquhart, a researcher, spend decades trying to figure out the mystery of the most incredible migration on earth: the flight of the butterflies. The new IMAX film “Flight of the Butterflies” tells the compelling story of an old researcher who finds a key to unlocking the secret of the Monarchs, as well as an amazing tale of a butterfly and her offspring, and a “super generation” of butterflies that makes a journey spanning thousands of miles from Canada to a remote secluded sanctuary in the mountains of Mexico.
The premiere of “Flight of the Butterflies” was held at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, with a VIP party as a big social event. Friends of the museum and the media attended and enjoyed the scrumptious catering and the Science Center’s exhibits and interactive models. On the tables, there were many decorations, including delicate butterfly ornaments in a tray of herbs and flowers. Many people at the event were even dressed up in butterfly costumes! The catering food was delicious! There were all sorts of breads, like soft pita bread, crispy Italian, and crunchy crackers. There were fancy cheeses, sweet honeycomb, berries, fruit, and nuts. For the entrees, there were roasted vegetables, with juicy tomatoes, and crunchy zucchini and squash, even savory lemon-flavored meatballs and crepes.
I had great pleasure interviewing Bill Toone, former San Diego Wild Animal Park curator who built the butterfly exhibit, and now the founder and executive director of ECOLIFE Foundation. I asked Bill how he create the Monarch Butterfly exhibit. “It was really fun to do and quite challenging,” said Bill, “I was at the time curator of birds. The Zoo wasn’t very excited about the butterfly exhibit, they didn’t quite understand it. So when I was designing the facility, I was telling people that I was going to put birds in the exhibit. But you never put birds behind glasses, so they thought I had gone nuts! But once people started to come, and the show became one of their biggest hits, the Zoo was very happy.”
There was a legendary love story here too. Bill was initially introduced to the Monarch butterflies by a colleague, Sunni, who was also working at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. They saw the Monarch butterfly migration together for the first year in Mexico and had been going there for over 25 years! Bill impressed Sunni by successfully building the Monarch butterfly exhibit at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and eventually won her heart and marrying her. Bill told me that he never gets tired of watching the butterflies in migration, every time, it was “pure joy.”
Bill shared his experience watching the migration of the butterflies. “There are millions of butterflies in the trees, resting. Then all of a sudden, millions of them would fly at the same time, the only thing you can hear is the beating of their wings, which I call the roars of the butterflies! Each time I see them in that moment, I cry, it’s a very emotional experience. We have been very fortunate in our work. I have seen a herd of migrating wildebeest, snorkeled on the great Barrier Reef, collected birds of paradise in New Guinea, tracked Borneo forest, and I have never seen anything as breathtaking and moving as the migration of the butterflies.” These days, Bill and his wife Sunni take 18 friends with them to watch the amazing migration of the Monarch butterflies each year. I told him that I would love to go along with him on this trip some day!
I asked Bill about his non-profit organization ECOLIFE Foundation. He said, “The purpose of the organization is to find ways to make conservation very positive for humanities. We pick projects with an under-served community, and find simple solutions that would benefit people, animals, and the planet.” A recent project was building special stoves in Mexico where 75% less fire wood would be used, so that more trees in the forest would be spared, and the butterflies would have more forest for shelter. To hear Bill Toone speak at a special lecture “For the Love of Butterflies,” following the film screening, visit Reuben H. Fleet Science Center on Tue, Feb 12, 2013, from 6 to 7:30 pm.
I give the film 4 starfish, it is “Perrific!” The story is informative, telling about the massive migration, and the impact of wildflower clearing and deforestation on the lives of the butterflies. The only flaw I could find was that the acting on the part of the butterfly researcher was a bit unrealistic, as he appeared to be indifferent at the moment of his discovery that he spent 40 years waiting for. “Flight of the Butterflies” also has a deep message about conservation and protecting the habitat that animals live in: Even tiny butterflies can do remarkable things.
While you are at the museum, visit the exciting Asteroid exhibit and watch the new “Cosmic Collisions” show about what could and did happen when asteroid hit the earth! It was an amazing show, not to be missed!
Perry Chen is the youngest award-winning film/ entertainment critic & animator, artist, speaker, and entertainment personality. He started writing movie reviews at 8 using a kid-friendly starfish rating system, under the guidance of his mom Dr. Zhu Shen and his 3rd grade teacher Ms. Harris. Perry’s debut on the CBS Evening News in 2009 made him a national sensation. He has been featured extensively on local, national, and international media, including NPR, Fox, CNN, NBC, The Guardian, The China Press, and many more. He has interviewed prominent filmmakers at film festivals, red carpet premieres, and press junkets. He won a prestigious “Excellence in Journalism Award” at the San Diego Press Club in 2010 as its youngest member. Perry currently writes movie reviews for the Animation World Network, San Diego Union Tribune, Amazing Kids! Magazine, and his own Perry’s Previews website with a combined readership of over 2 million worldwide. Perry and his family live in the community of Carmel Valley San Diego.
Dr. Zhu Shen’s love for the movies started when she was a young girl, growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution where watching movies was the only entertainment available to the masses. Her journey to become a filmmaker took a convoluted path. She studied medicine at Peking Union Medical College before coming to the US and earning a Ph.D. in biochemistry from University of Colorado, and then an MBA from Cornell University’s Johnson School. She is a producer of the upcoming documentary feature “Average Joe on the Raw,” about journey into raw food and health. Dr. Shen is also an award-winning biotech executive, author, speaker, China business expert featured on national and trade media including CBS, Fox, Business Week, Pharmaceutical Executive, and more. She has worked at IBM, Bayer, Chiron, Immusol, and is the CEO of BioForesight, consulting on cross-Pacific life science business. *Photos of Perry Chen and Zhu Shen by Brian Bostrom.