The Cry Of The Butterfly

Review by Willard Manus

THE CRY OF THE BUTTERFLY, Mihailo Stanich's brave and powerful half-hour film about a street waif whose crack-addict mother sells her into a child-prostitution ring, was shot in the subterranean streets of downtown Los Angeles, but the story it tells is universal in its scope and theme. There are an estimated 1.5 million teenaged runaway children in the USA, a large percentage of whom end up in the sex trade as virtual slaves.

Stanich, a prize-winning Serbian-American filmmaker, wrote, directed and produced THE CRY OF THE BUTTERFLY. His uncompromising script, skilled direction and managerial gifts have resulted in a low-budget film of exceptional quality, one that is deserving of wide distribution and attention.

Stanich has also assembled a first-rate cast, beginning with Nina Serbedzija, who plays the lead role of Lucy, a 14-year-old who lives in a squat and supports herself by working in a fish-processing plant and by trying to sell her home-made costume-jewelry to the uppity folks attending concerts at Disney Hall. A mixture of toughness and vulnerability, Lucy navigates between Los Angeles' clashing worlds on a rickety bicycle which is kept in working condition by Ray (Rade Serbedzija), a kind of homeless (and wordless) guardian angel.

Susan's mother is played by Dee (E.T.) Wallace; John (The Deer Hunter) Savage takes on the role of a coke-sniffing rich boy who pays big bucks for virginal female flesh. Other important roles were played by Phil Morris and Melissa Crider (as the madam of the call-girl ring).

CRY OF THE BUTTERFLY pulls no punches in its attack on the human trafficking trade that we have allowed to take root in our supposedly civilized society. Above all, the film does a superb job of showing the tragic human cost exacted by the corruption of the innocent.

Mihailo Stanich sat for an exclusive interview with LIVELY ARTS:

Q. Was there a specific person or incident that led you to write this story?

A. I was drawn to the theme by the many talks I have had over the years with homeless people in L.A.

Q. You went down into L.A.'s underbelly to shoot most of the film. What problems or challenges did that pose for you?

A. We shot on a very tight budget. All members of the cast and crew worked for free; the only individuals who got paid were the homeless people who appeared in the film. They and everyone else we met on the streets were helpful and enthusiastic about the project.

We shot without permits. That caused a major problem when it came time to film a key scene on a bridge. In it Rade climbed up on a ledge and made as if to jump. Someone in a passing car called the police. Two patrol cars arrived and the officers rushed at Rade, yelling, "Don't jump, don't jump!" Rade quickly said, "Take it easy, we're only shooting a movie!"

"With Tom Cruise?" one of the officers asked. "Not this one, but I have been in two other films with him!" Rade replied calmly.

The officers asked to see my permits. When I admitted that I didn't have any, I was threatened with arrest. What saved me was the arrival of a third patrol car whose driver, a female officer, actually recognized Rade from his work in "Eyes Wide Shut."

Thanks to her help, the police not only allowed us to finish shooting but arranged for a meeting at the stationhouse the next day. The captain there not only wished us luck but granted us permission to use one of his patrol cars for another important scene!

Q. Where did you find the actors to play Lucy and her mute but uncannily expressive guardian angel?

A. They are father and daughter in real life, and friends of mine. Rade is a distinguished Hollywood character actor; I cast Nina after seeing her act in a couple of local plays.

Q. Are there any child-welfare institutions or charities who might be willing take up the cause of this film?

A. There are several, like Children of the Night and Humanity United, but I haven't gone after them just yet. That will come, though.

Q. The several recent screenings in L.A. of THE CRY OF THE BUTTERFLY make the film eligible for Academy Award consideration by the MPAA. What do you think your chances are of being nominated for an Oscar in the short-film category?

A. That's impossible to predict. All I can say is that if the film is nominated it would be a tremendous thing, not only for me but for all the homeless kids out there who believe, as Lucy says in BUTTERFLY, "That people don't care about us, that God has given up on us."

A nomination would prove that there are some people who do care, that there is some hope after all.