‘Butterfly People’ explores phenomenon 12 years after deadly Joplin tornado

Steve Chapman

Filmmaker Gregory Fish, seen with wife Emily, shows off his award from the First City Film Festival in March. Fish’s film “The Butterfly People” won the award of Best Feature Film at the festival. Photo contributed.

Filmmaker Gregory Fish interviews survivors of the Joplin tornado during the making of his film. (Photo submitted)

 Local filmmaker Fish sheds light on mysterious claims involving possible guardian angels during disaster
On May 22, 2011, the city of Joplin was devastated by the winds of an EF5 tornado. While most people naturally focused on the 161 lives lost during the tornado, as well as the damage or destruction of nearly 8,000 buildings, another sensation arose in the aftermath of the catastrophe. Several survivors of the tornado, many of them children, reported seeing “butterfly people,” winged beings that they say protected them from the devastation. Mt. Vernon filmmaker Gregory Fish, explores this anomaly in his cinematic creation, “The Butterfly People.”

Fish said he made the film at the urging of Steve Head, a digital creator who lives in Webb City.
“Steve Head actually twisted my arm to make this film,” Fish said. “He knew I made another documentary called “Steadfast” about the Joplin tornado several years ago. He approached me about partnering with his newly formed cinematic arts non-profit to create a follow-up or companion film to my first award-winning documentary.”
Fish said he wasn’t eager to make the film at first due to the amount of effort he knew it would require, but Head persuaded him to make “The Butterfly People” with a promise of help.
“I was hesitant at first because I knew how much work is involved,” Fish said. “He said he would help, and I didn’t have any help the first time around, in the making of or the marketing afterward. He convinced me to take on this project, and I’m glad he did as it’s already been very rewarding.”
The film, Fish said, investigated the sightings of the reported “Butterfly People” by speaking with those who claimed to have sighted the beings.
“’The Butterfly People’ is an investigation into the phenomenon that took place in the Joplin tornado of 2011, where many children reported sightings of what they described as butterflies, which helped them in some way,” he said. “The documentary involves third-person and first-person accounts, as well as some angel expert opinions. What does all of this mean? That is for you to decide.”
Fish conducted the interviews in Joplin, Nashville, Louisville and Kansas City. While he had help from people whom he said put “sweat equity” into the making of the film, he was largely a one-man team, working on the film in his free time outside of his regular job. He edited the film at his home in Mt. Vernon.
“My role was all of the creative aspects,” he said. “I was the director, but also ran cameras, conducted the interviews, and was the editor and sound designer. It was a ‘rebel without a crew’ type of situation, but I did the same with my first film.”
Fish said feedback on “The Butterfly People” has been overwhelmingly supportive.
“Things really came together in a neat way for this film to be able to be made in a relatively quick timeline,” he said. “I’m glad people are now getting to see it and the response has been very positive. It’s starting to win some awards at film festivals. While that’s nice, it’s most rewarding to hear comments from those who have never heard of such a phenomenon until watching this film. It makes all the hard work that went into it worth it in the end.”
In the end, Fish said, his goal was to provoke serious thought about the Butterfly People in those who watch the film.
“I hope this film will make people think and cause them to wonder what is behind the butterfly people phenomenon,” he said. “As a documentary filmmaker, you want people to tell their stories, without a script or agenda. I want people to hear these stories and make up their own minds about how they feel about it later. I hope they leave inspired, encouraged, and better for seeing it.”
“The Butterfly People” showed in Neosho on May 20-22 in Monett and Neosho; it will show again on Tuesday, May 28, at the Route 66 Theatre in Webb City, as well as Wednesday, May 29, at the Plaza Theatre in Lamar. For more information, go to “The Butterfly People Movie” Facebook page.


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