The Butterfly Circus, a short film featuring Nick Vujicic in the lead role, is one of the best short films of the last few years. The direction is skillfully and effectively handled by Joshua Weigel. The screenplay is crisp and compact as demanded by the short-film genre. The script written by the duo Joshua and Rebekah Weigel excels in terms of metaphors infused in the story. The story also serves as an inspiration for differently-abled people to achieve and succeed in life. Indeed, the lead character Nick Vujicic is a limb-less person as shown in the film; and continues to inspire thousands of similarly challenged individuals through his motivation talks.
There are many features of the film that captured my imagination. The short film was very well made, with different departments such as direction, screenplay, acting and cinematography all supporting and complementing each other. The real stalwart of the movie (as well as in real-life) is Nick Vujicic, who transforms himself from being ‘a perversion of nature’, ‘a creature given up by God’, etc to an extraordinary circus performer, an overachiever. As his mentor, the owner of Butterfly Circus correctly points out, much of Nick’s predicament and diminished sense of self is of his own making. Admonishing Nick for his passive acceptance of fate, the mentor (played by Eduardo Verastegui) urges Nick to achieve something like other circus performers. Even when Nick falls down as he tries to cross over the river, the mentor allows him to ‘manage’ on his own. Apathetic and cruel as it might seem, Verastegui knew what he was doing – namely cultivating self-sufficiency in Nick. Just as Verastegui intended, this attitude leads to a breakthrough event, when Nick falls into the water, and in a desperate attempt to keep afloat, discovers that he can swim.
The Butterfly Circus as a Teaching Aid
As a teacher of special needs children, I can play this film to my students and inspire them to make maximum use of their lives. In addition to the film, I would also play motivational talks given by Nick Vujicic to my students, for the film is only a representation of his own real struggles. The film has also taught me the role of mentorship in uplifting disabled children. For example, the kind of encouragement that a child is received has profound implications for the way it integrates into the mainstream society.
Usually, a child from one of the minority communities has to overcome more challenges. The minority status may be as a result of disability, ethnicity, language, race or nativity. It has been proven by many studies that a school environment can be very hostile for a vulnerable child. The ability to “belong” to a peer group can lead to undesirable tendencies in the child, some of which will undermine its growth. Children coming from dysfunctional family environments are a high risk group. And so are the ones who have had a history of emotional or sexual abuse. They all tend to display inadequate social skills and hence, put their acceptance in the mainstream school culture in jeopardy. The difficulties confronting children with special needs (be it physical one or psychological ones) are all the more daunting. The Butterfly Circus underscores the crucial role played by educators/caregivers/mentors in inspiring and encouraging special needs children to test and push their limits. It is only through trials and errors that come with persistent trying that they will be able to overcome their inhibitions and doubts and become self-sufficient, independent and successful. Hence, as a special education teacher, I will carry these messages of the film with me.
As I completed watching the film, my mind tried to place the message of the film in the context of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), the country’s special education law. Though originally debated in the Congress in the 1970’s to ensure that children with special needs and disabilities had adequate opportunities to get appropriate public education, on par with children of normal ability, the recent amendments to the law were the most comprehensive, the final document of which was published two years back. It sets out many key components of IDEA as well as guidelines for educational institutions in regard to providing “special education and related services to more than six million eligible children with disabilities”. The three important components of IDEA are: Its Alignment with the No Child Left Behind Act, Early Intervening Services and Individualized Education Program (IEP). All these new requirements from the law are set to positively impact the way special needs children receive their education. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen if they meet all their objectives. I am just hoping that the provisions under IDEA help special needs children achieve their full potential as was brilliantly shown in The Butterfly Circus. I will also keep in mind a key message of the film – the social support a child receives in the form of its family, community, peers and school goes a long way in mitigating negative consequences – and try to provide such support to my pupils.
Weigel, Rebekah (writer), & Weigel, Joshua (director). (2009). A Butterfly Circus, US