As a general rule, director Georgia Krause’s films watch like burning dreams. Infused with visual poetry, concerned with the natural world and structured around philosophical blueprints, Georgia’s work speaks with a voice well beyond the years of its creator. Georgia–or George, as she’s known to the CONVICTS family–cut her teeth at NYU’s film school before striking out on her own as an independent filmmaker.
Her most recent film, Ebb & Flow, is as timely as it is haunting: she and a crew traveled to Mission, Texas to film one town’s fight to preserve their connection to the land. Mission sits upon the Rio Grande River and is squarely in the sights of the Trump Administration’s proposed border wall. Moreover, the wall would plow directly through the grounds of the National Butterfly Center, a conservation institution dedicated to protecting one of nature’s most beautiful and fragile creatures.
Migratory insects, monarch butterflies complete a vast and mysterious north-to-south migration each year. The parallels between the journey of the butterflies–who through change and migration preserve their species–almost uncannily reflect the predicament of immigrants crossing America’s southern border. The wall threatens to disrupt the movement of both populations without regard for their future.
Moreover, Georgia has a bit of a personal connection to the butterfly: her first-ever film, the one that gained her admission to film school, was about a grandmother illegally smuggling butterflies into the country. The insect became a personal symbol of growth for Georgia and her sister on a road trip they took to scatter their father’s ashes. In short, no one else in the world could craft this film quite like George.
CONVICTS caught up with the young filmmaker while she was on a well-earned vacation in New Orleans. Drinking from a to-go cup one Friday afternoon, Georgia gave us the lowdown on the intensity of her experience at the border, the hustle required to achieve one’s vision as an independent filmmaker, and the importance of cutting out the noise and staying true to one’s own vision.
Hey there, Georgia. To start, can you tell me where you grew up?
I grew up between North Carolina and Connecticut with a brief foray into Amsterdam. Always East Coast though–I’m an East Coast baby.
Did you grow up in a creative family?
No, my family is pretty academic. My sister is working on her Ph.D.; so I’m going to be the only one in my family without a doctorate. Both of my parents were educators so school was always a big thing.
So how did you find your way into film?
I was always into writing and photography and that hippy dippy creative stuff. I was trying to do college class at Southern Connecticut State University when I was in high school, only I super duper blew the registration time. The only class left was a film studies class. I took it and was like, “I kinda fuck with this.” So I made my first movie about a grandmother who smuggled butterflies into the country illegally and faked her own death. Then I got into film school and the rest is history.
Interesting. Didn’t realize this project was a return to your creative roots?
Yo, it actually is! I didn’t realize that but yeah: my first movie ever was about a butterfly smuggling grandmother and now I’m making a documentary about social justice butterflies, so it’s pretty full circle.
Have you always been drawn to butterflies?
I’ve always liked butterflies because they’re beautiful and are potent metaphors. But two summers ago, my sister and I took a road trip from Nashville to Key West to scatter my dad’s ashes, so it was super meaningful. We stumbled across this butterfly sanctuary in the Keys and now we’re getting matching butterfly tattoos. For my sister and I, it’s definitely become a whole thing, a representation of change and all of that.
The monarch butterfly migration is wild, isn’t it?
Yeah, it’s very mysterious and magical. It’s also just incredibly powerful and makes me feel very small.
It’s almost as though one giant being is moving across the world with a bunch of little butterfly bodies…
Yeah. I mean, this film kind of wrote itself. We were talking about a species that is based around migration and change and beauty through that change. We were also talking about people who are trying to migrate to the US, in search of a better life through change. So it was already there you know? That metaphor was heavy, poetic and already written.
How did you get tied into the scene down there? What’s the story?
After this road trip with my sister, I was like, “Damn i really want to make a butterfly movie.” Which is kind of a funny way for this to start, but it felt like something I really needed to do. So I set up a Google search alert for ‘butterflies.’ That way, anything in the news about butterflies would pop up. Eventually, an alert came up for this NPR article written on the National Butterfly Center and its fight against the border wall.
What happened then?
I was literally doing the freelancer thing: sitting at a coffee shop in Brooklyn looking for jobs on indeed.com and hating my life. The alert popped up and I ran out of the coffee shop, immediately found a phone number and called the National Butterfly Center. I talked to a PR woman named Francis and she was super receptive and introduced me to a lot of people. So I went down to Mission, Texas for a protest community. That’s how I met Father Roy, the priest, and people from the butterfly center, and the family whose daughter is in the opening of the film. The community there is so small and tight-knit but they opened up to us and were super welcoming.
Did you protest as well?
Yeah, but we were mostly there to shoot. They didn’t do the protest in the center of town for the attention of people in the street. They marched from the Butterfly Center down to the river. We shot the protest and afterward, they had tamales and a cake and an entire live string orchestra performance. We stayed down there and spent time with the community members just to feel involved in the community. The people we met were so welcoming–they wanted coverage from people who cared about the issue as much as they did.
What does the wall mean to the people of Mission, Texas?
The wall is not only fracturing the Butterfly Center, it’s fracturing the community. The entire American side of Mission is going to be cut off from the river and divide the people from the land. There were a lot of indigenous folks, as well. They’ve always been advocates for the land and the law has continuously gone against them and ignored them. So it was a way to speak out against that, not just through anger and protest, but also through beauty.
Tell us a bit more about the experience shooting down there?
We shot for four days and were in contact with the people down there for about a month before and after the shoot. We planned a lot of the stuff–like shooting at the chapel and shooting at the Butterfly Center–but all of the Border Patrol stuff was entirely accidental.
Can you talk about that experience a bit?
We were just trying to film at the river that day. We came across several arrests but as we drove to the water, we encountered two families that just literally swam across the river. They were seeking refuge and trying to turn themselves and be considered refugees. It was a really intense thing to experience. We tried to help as much as we could but there are so many laws preventing that. For example, we couldn’t bring anyone into our car and we couldn’t aid them outside of food and water. So we waited with them for like three hours for Border Patrol to come. That footage wasn’t originally in the film but I brought in another editor and they decided that it should be there.
Talk a bit more about the creative process after the shoot.
I brought in two additional editors because I felt too close to the footage to make good decisions. I always pictured the film being something that was very dreamy and ethereal…but mixing that vibe with the severity of the Border Patrol stuff we captured was really challenging.
How did your vision finally end up manifesting?
There were so many cuts of this movie. I got so much advice about what would sell and what would be good in the digital marketplace and what film festivals wanted and what magazines and publishers wanted…but finally, I was like “the only thing I know is what I want, so I’m just going to go with that.”
Plus, we didn’t have any funding. I figured this would be one of the last times I could make a film like this without having to report to anyone, so I should enjoy the freedom that allowed.
Where did you premiere the film?
We premiered in Brooklyn, at the New Cinema Club like a week or two ago. That was really exciting because I didn’t want to treat the issue as a headline; I wanted people to feel what it was like to be down there and experience the story in a more visceral sense. I wanted to express the way the community feels and how it felt for outsiders to come in, rather than a headline that would cause people to just say ‘oh god that’s terrible we should do something about this.’
Building on that question: why was film uniquely suited for this project? What can cinema achieve that say, writing or photography cannot?
Feeling, I think. I read articles and stats and saw photos of the Butterfly Center myself, but I wanted to show the missing piece of emotion felt by people fighting for their land. To deliver that impact, you have to address all the senses and show a viewer the environment rather than just telling them what’s going on.
Super cool, Georgia. What’s next for you?
Well, I’m working on a documentary about police canines and another project that’s still under wraps.
Looking forward to it. Thanks Georgia, you absolutely killed it.