In December 1997, Julia Hill climbed into a thousand-year-old redwood tree to save it from logging; her action galvanized an already intense dispute over the fate of Northern California's old-growth forests. Over two years later, Hill came down, having saved the tree and hillside surrounding it. As told in Doug Wolens' remarkable film, Butterfly, Hill's decision to live high above the reach of even Pacific Lumber's most fearless climbers forced everyone to react—supporters, allies, and the press, as well as loggers and sometimes unsympathetic locals.
Daughter of an evangelical preacher, Julia Butterfly Hill was new to California and new to the environmental movement when she climbed into the tree nicknamed Luna. Hill thought her tree-sit would last a few weeks at most. She remained for two years, surviving El Niño’s winter storms, howling winds, and harassment by her logging company opponents. During this time Hill wrote in her notebooks, compiling a recently published book, “The Legacy of Luna.”
Wolens' interviews over two years, including six nights with Hill on her 180-foot high platform, reveal an intensely spiritual and articulate woman determined to accomplish her goal. We get a sense of the awesome beauty of her days and nights lived in an ancient tree, of the horror of being assaulted by lumber company helicopters, and of the strangeness of fierce media scrutiny seeking out a woman in a tree.
Loggers, lumber executives, local townspeople, and fellow environmentalists offer their own strong reactions to Hill's tree-sit, painting a detailed picture of the many shades of opinion and interest converging in the Northwest forest issues. Wolens also shows how Hill is a part of the direct-action environmentalism movement flourishing in the area, which both exasperates and energizes the local residents.
"I'm not a particularly spiritual person, not an environmentalist," says Wolens. "I smoke cigarettes, drink tons of coffee, and eat cheeseburgers. But when I happened to hear this young woman chatting with a radio DJ from atop an old-growth redwood, I was amazed. Five days later I was hauling my camera two miles up the mountainside and 180 feet up that tree."
Butterfly is a moving account of an emotional environmental struggle, and also the portrait of an extraordinary woman who only recently descended from Luna in triumph.