More About Butterfly

Living 180 feet off the ground in an ancient redwood tree for over two years, Julia Butterfly Hill captured the hearts and minds of the world by showing us that one person can make a difference.

Wolens' interviews over two years, including six nights with Hill on her 180-foot high platform, reveal an intensely spiritual and articulate woman determined to accomplish her goal. We get a sense of the awesome beauty of her days and nights lived in an ancient tree, of the horror of being assaulted by lumber company helicopters, and of the strangeness of fierce media scrutiny seeking out a woman in a tree.


Butterfly Long Synopsis

    BUTTERFLY is a documentary film about the environmental heroine, Julia Butterfly Hill who has gained the attention of the world for her 2-year vigil 180 feet atop an ancient redwood tree preventing it from being clear-cut.

    Julia has become her cause and her cause has become her. BUTTERFLY shows us the situation out of which Earth First activists have regularly engaged in civil disobedient "actions:" The whys, the hows, and the whos. But to fully see why Julia is in the tree, BUTTERFLY presents who she is and what leads her to live as she does.

    Although it's easy to view BUTTERFLY as a film about the environmental movement, forest issues or of course about Julia Butterfly, at its heart the film is really about what each of us can achieve, the greatness we can all become.

    Julia Butterfly Hill Julia Butterfly Hill sits 180 feet above the ground in an ancient redwood, preventing it from being cut down. The more than 1000 year old tree named Luna is located in Humboldt County, California on Pacific Lumber's 210,000 acre private timber property. From her living area, a 6 x 8 foot platform with blue and brown plastic tarps intertwined through the tree branches as a roof, Julia looks out over the Pacific Ocean, the Pacific Lumber mill, majestic stands of old growth trees and sections of clear-cut hillsides. Without a harness as a safety, Julia has been living atop of the tree since December 1997. She walks around the huge fifteen foot diameter tree without shoes, bringing her closer to nature, and is constantly on her two cell phone publicizing the destruction of the forests. Residents of Humboldt County, conservative rural folk like Michael Evanson, Ralph Krause, Mike O'Neal and Kristy Wrigley, have lived in Northern California for years because it's a beautiful area, filled with hills and streams. Their backyards extended out to vast stands of monstrous Redwood and Douglas fir. For a hundred years, their neighbor Pacific Lumber looked to the county as it's home and supported it's employee base (which was made up entirely of local workers). The residents believed that PL stood for "Public Lands," as there were no gates around this area of magnificent hills, streams and trees. Pacific Lumber was a good neighbor in this fairy tale community. It practiced sustainable forestry and was cited by the Sierra Club for not cutting down more trees than it re-planted. Julia Hill, the daughter of an Evangelist preacher, grew up in a trailer, traveling from church to church across the country. She was educated at home by her parents. But by the age of 18, Julia threw off her Christian ties. At 23 years of age traveled from her home in Arkansas to California. Upon entering the Lost Coast of northern California, she dropped to her knees and began crying from the sprit, power and beauty of the redwoods. Pacific Lumber loggers In 1985, during the era of Reaganomics, junk bonds and failed savings & loans, Charles Hurwitz, a corporate raider from Houston Texas, took over Pacific Lumber. The purchase was legally questionable. Upon his take-over of the company Hurwitz expressed his Golden Rule to PL employees: "he who has the gold, rules," and then immediately raided the 60 million dollar pension fund. Loggers once believing the land would be maintained so as to provide a future for their children; now live in fear. They can't talk to outsiders in fear of losing their job, and they are beginning to see that the trees, which is their livelihood, are being cut down too fast. Rather than "selective harvesting," vast areas of land are clear-cut, then burned out, and sprayed with toxins. Much of this practice occurs on steep unstable slopes in watersheds throughout the county. Wanting to get involved and stop the destruction of the forest, Julia learned about the situation through community organizations. She traveled to Earth First!'s base camp and asked how she could help. Earth First! allowed her to participate in the tree-sit, but warned her that she may be up there for a few days. treetop camp The environmental movement in Northern California is not comprised of a single group, but instead is a large web of various grass-root organizations. Although they each work together, each organization has it's own constituency and it's own purposes. No group, however, works alone. Whether its litigation arm (EPIC), resource arm (Trees Foundation) or individual "direct actions" through Earth First!, they work hand-in-hand, each performing a different function to protect the environment. For instance, while EPIC obtains a temporary restraining order from the courts, Earth First! does "direct actions," such as locking themselves to gates and trees, so the logging can't continue during the litigation. The people within the environmental movement are colorful characters and are very serious about the work they do. They are extremely committed and make little, if any money. Although non-violent, Earth First!'s actions are illegal (many Earth First!ers have taken on "forest" names as pseudonyms), their commitment is stronger than the concern of arrest. Julia's voice is heard as the tree-sit accomplishes three things: 1) it prevents the tree and hillside from being cut; 2) it brings media attention to the situation; and, 3) teaches the public about the forest. For the first few weeks Julia's tree-sit didn't get much media attention, but it did prevent Pacific Lumber from cutting the hillside. The tree was too big and too tall for them to get her down. As the weeks turned into months, and the winter storms raged, Julia's resolve grew and her voice strengthened. The rains and 90 MPH winds of El Nino ripped at Julia and the tree, nearly throwing her to her death on many occasions. Simultaneously, Pacific Lumber began a campaign of shining flood lights on her and blasting music to force her down. At the height of one night's storm, Julia clung to the tree for dear life. It was then the voice of the tree first spoke to her. It told her how to survive. At that moment, when she understood nature's unconditional gift to her, she gave herself unconditionally to the tree and to the world. treetop camp Pacific Lumber says Julia's nuts. They have since stopped trying to force her down, noting the public's attention on her. In fact they say she can stay up there as long as she wants. But the reality is that they want her down. Not only is she preventing them from cutting that hillside, but she's maintained a high level of media focus on the area and Pacific Lumber's timber harvest practices. PL claims she's preventing people from working and that jobs are lost. They maintain that their logging is not to blame for the environmental problems in the county and to the contrary, suggests they are harvesting trees responsibly. They won't listen to the residents' concerns, calling anyone in their way radical environmental terrorists in an attempt to silence the community. The redwood forest used to extend from Big Sur up to the Oregon border. Now, only 3% of the original old growth trees remain. The soil in which these enormous trees grow developed over millions of years. Their roots are shallow but densely intertwined, providing stability for the steep slopes that make up much of Humboldt county. The tall canopy of redwoods naturally prevent direct sunlight from forcing lesser hardwoods from growing and keeps the streams cool for salmon. When a hillside is clear-cut, there is nothing to maintain and hold the large amount of rain in the area. Instead of falling into the trees and root system, rain on a clear-cut hillside causes the mud to slide downhill to the streams. An area next to Julia's sit that Pacific Lumber clear-cut last year developed into a huge mud-slide completely wiping out seven homes. Sediment that's flowing into the streams has destroyed salmon runs and spawning pools, debilitating a $43 million dollar fishing industry. Herbicides used to kill the unwanted hardwood and brush are flowing downstream to residents' yards and water supplies. From the air, we see that Humboldt County has been ravaged. Julia These issues are not new, but Julia has become a voice and symbol for the person standing up against it all, putting her life on the line. She's in tune with nature and rather than scream bloody murder, she speaks of love, the whole of the universe and her commitment to the forests and the people in the area. Julia's actions are uniquely selfless. Her heroes are her support team who climb two miles up the hill to regularly and provide her with food and supplies. She never discusses her discomfort, but instead turns the conversation to residents who no longer have homes or water to drink. Julia's gaining international attention for her efforts, sincerity and eloquence. Many celebrities have joined in support of her efforts and she has spent many hours discussing the situation with various state and federal legislators. Through her voice, Julia has empowered the community. She has brought long time residents, having nothing to do with the environmental movement, to join hands with the activists. Julia's voice comes from the heart and is based in love. In her free time, before she goes to sleep, Julia draws and writes beautiful poetry. However, her emphasis on love is not accepted by everyone in Earth First! Certain EF! leaders have asked Julia to come down from the tree so another EF!er can go up. They contend "no individual is more important than the whole," and that Julia's public recognition is too great. Jealousy and power politics can undermine any organization, even one loosely tied as Earth First! Issues regarding funding has caused a division within the organization and a handful of EF!ers are publicly denouncing Julia's modus operandi. Julia Julia lived in the tree for over two years. Her vow was not to promote one entity's agenda. Instead, she followed her heart. Ultimately, the lumber company reached an agreement with Julia to permanently protect the tree and a 3-acre buffer zone. Regardless if you adore her or simply think she's a freak, BUTTERFLY teaches us that each one of us can accomplish greatness if we try.


Producer: Doug Wolens
Director: Doug Wolens
Editors: Zack Bennett & Doug Wolens
Sound Recordist: Robert Donald
Associate Producers: Gary Schwartz, Claudia Kussano, Mike Wolens, Lois Wolens
Camera Assistant: Robert Donald
Additional Cinematography: Rich Gunderman, Paul Sanchez, Robert Donald, James Ficklin "Duff"
Editing Consultants: Jane Ainbinder, Kate Stilly
Camera & lenses: Lee Utterbachs, San Francisco
Lab: Monoco Labs, San Francisco
Sound re-mix: Music Annex, San Francisco
Music: Ani Difranco, Utah Phillips, Karrie Wallace & Juli Palmer
Site Design: R Graphics

Edited entirely on my home PC