Today on the Science Talk podcast, Alexis Gambis, a New York University biologist and independent filmmaker, speaks about making Son of Monarchs, which won the 2021 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

The film is about a Mexican scientist who studies the evolution of monarch butterfly wings. It is a cultural piece about the politics of immigration, spirituality and shifting identities.

Gambis talks about science beyond the lab bench, bringing CRISPR technology to the big screen and how he is usually given to bold, innovative features that focus on science or technology and that depict a scientist as a central character. 

In one scene in Son of Monarchs, the main character stands in a rowdy bar and raises his glass to “CRISPR and the genetic revolution.” There are several allusions throughout the film to how gene editing fascinates and terrifies us. Evolutionary science is the thread that ties the human story together. 

From script to screen, the scientist-director meditates on the long journey to the finish line, securing funding and how science’s big stories can be weaved into art. 

Gambis has been running a science film festival for 13 years and making science films for longer. His next project, El Beso, is a plunge into the life and science-fiction writings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal, an early 20th-century Spanish neuroscientist who won the 1906 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.