At the core of Fernanda Parrado’s 2019 experimental short film, Metamorphosis, is the concepts of sacrifice and rebirth. Through the usage of archival 16mm film reels of documentaries about the monarch butterfly, and her own shots on a Super 8 camera, Parrado’s six minute film takes the viewer on a poetic visual journey about immigration, the self, and politics.
Metamorphosis opens with scenes from a 1950s documentary about the migration of monarch butterflies. Then, sped-up footage of a man stamping immigration papers plays out as the narrator describes the tagging process of monarchs as they travel south.
Looking at the migration of butterflies as a metaphor for human immigration helped Parrado understand not only the particularity of her circumstances, but also its similarities with many other immigrants, most notably her family.
“My family, they’re are all immigrants. My grandfather is from Spain and my grandmother from Portugal,” said Parrado. Originally from São Paulo, Brazil, she made her way to New York City to study film at City College in August of 2016. At times, the film seems like a letter to her grandfather, who passed away in March, and who was opposed to her going to New York.
“I didn’t know anyone in New York, just went there by myself,” said Parrado. “I wanted a sense of rebirth.” So she migrated to New York, but almost immediately she ran into obstacles that are familiar to immigrants whose first language isn’t English.
“New York definitely made me feel like an immigrant. Every time I opened my mouth, people would know that I wasn’t from there,” Parrado said. “It was difficult to really get that sense of rebirth.”
After the title rolls through, Parrado’s voice begins to narrate the rest of the film over manipulated archival footage and her own shots on a Super 8, which she had to trade in her DSLR to get.
“Memories, objects, photos; you would try everything to show me your path,” Parrado narrates, “what your culture meant to you and how that was part of me as well.”
Parrado told me that the first generation of monarch butterflies to migrate south go through all the trials and tribulations, but that because of that first generation’s journey, the second generation knows the way back.
In moving to New York, though, Parrado made the tough decision to be that first generation.
“I also have European citizenship, so if something happens and I’m not able to stay in New York, I’ll just go over there,” she said. “It’s funny because my grandparents left Europe for a better life in Brazil, and I’m ready to go back there! It’s really just like the butterflies. I feel like my roots are there in Europe,” she says.
This gets at something that is expounded upon in the images and narration of the film: the eternal possibility of change, or as the title puts it, metamorphosis. As Parrado builds a life in New York City, she is constantly aware of the fact that her grandparents have experienced much of the struggles that she’s going through, but also that she is better for it.
“As an immigrant, I learned to forgive myself, to build a thicker skin, so that I could keep moving. Migrating like you did, in my own constant metamorphosis,” says the narrator in the final seconds of the film. These lines are said over a shot of a monarch stretching out of its cocoon, reiterating the beautiful parallel between her own personal story, the monarchs, and her grandfather. The “you” in this narration thus expands to more than those in Parrado’s life, but also to any immigrant, butterfly or human.
Metamorphosis will premiere at the BAM Film School Shorts 2019 on Wednesday, Sept. 25, alongside films by students from Bard, Columbia, Vassar, The New School, and our very own Brooklyn College.