________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 9. . . .October 29, 2010


Four Wings and a Prayer.

Nick de Pencier. (Director). Kevin McMahon (Writer). Michael McMahon & Kristina McLaughlin (Primitive Entertainment Producers). Emmanuel Laurent (Films Trois Producer). David Johnston & Gerry Flahive (NFB Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2007.
80 min., 42 sec., DVD, $99.95. Order Number: 153C 9107 300.

Subject Heading:
Monarch butterfly - Migration.

Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 and up.

Review by Cathy Vincent Linderoos.

**** /4


The film Four Wings and a Prayer shows how a mass migration of the Monarch butterfly from Canada is enabled and how this butterfly has become an endangered phenomenon.

     As a Canadian school aged young person, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Monarch butterfly is simply a fellow inhabitant. Four Wings and a Prayer is the 2008 Banff TV Festival award winning film (Best Wildlife and Natural History program) that will set that assumption on its head. To see the film is to marvel at the navigational prowess and sheer energy of these tenacious butterflies which fly in a mass migration to the same place in Mexico every autumn over a distant of some 3000 km.

      Viewers are treated to seeing a representative physical migration of the fourth generation of a Monarch butterfly leaving a Georgian Bay area birthplace, where it has shed its cocoon, to its Mexican wintering home. Many examples of the dangers it encounters are filmed, and yet it appears that many of these resilient, longer living insects stay alive. They have longer lifespans than do their predecessors. It is unknown exactly what proportion of the departing Monarch population actually succeeds in completing the arduous journey as, for example, as few as 40 might be found in Mexico of the total 100,000 hand tagged in a single sample year in Canada by amateur biologists.

      Once the butterflies have reached their Mexican destination, the mountainous forest is their time honoured sanctuary. The nearby townspeople love to hear and see the butterflies return each year and consider them to be souls of the dead. They realize that both clandestine and legal logging are spoiling this particularly special refuge for these magnificent creatures, and viewers see the damage done to many trees.

      A Mexican poet who speaks at length to his friend who is a Monarch biologist is saddened by the great toll on the environment. He explains who does the tree harvesting and why it is only a few ''marginal'', impoverished citizens who cut down trees at night. The frequent use of Spanish is accompanied by English captioning.

      The many scenes of the butterflies in flight, a few scenes where they are being preyed upon, almost being preyed upon, being sprayed by pesticides and having encountered snow and ice in transit are quite rivetting. Scenes of Ontario landscapes and wide-open expanses of water show viewers the reality of the journey. Juxtaposed with scenes of farmland, towns and roads in the US, the live action aerial shots aptly bring home the fact of the amazing distances covered in the cross border trip. The soundtrack lends itself well to the action viewers see. The butterflies all cling for five months to the trees in the Mexican location from which, upon their re awakening, they head north and then mate in Texas.

      Four Wings and a Prayer is superbly narrated by the actress Kristin Scott Thomas. Great care has been taken to interview and film people from different age groups and nations, some of whom are extremely attached to the butterfly. Many children are seen enjoying their hands on experiences with the butterflies.

      I would screen this gorgeous film in two parts because of its length and probably to an intermediate and/or senior group of students. It is a perfect film to show in an upper level Spanish class or to biology students with an interest in wildlife management and evolution. It is also a perfect film for showing at a public library to the fans of wildlife conservation.

Highly Recommended.

Cathy Vincent Linderoos is a retired science teacher who lives in London, ON. She is a member of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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