BERRYVILLE — The only thing missing Saturday was a red carpet at the premiere of a beautiful documentary about Holy Cross Abbey and its significant contributions in Clarke County. “Saving Place, Saving Grace” was shown twice at the Barns of Rose Hill after the originally scheduled show sold out and people continued to arrive.
The 180-plus seat venue was standing room only for the 3 p.m. premiere, and another 75 people attended the added second showing.
“Saving Place, Saving Grace” will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Jan. 12 on local PBS station WVPT.
The film’s director George Patterson and executive producer Deidra Dain introduced the documentary and thanked the crew and cast, which includes local residents Winkie Mackay-Smith, Bruce Rinker, Ron Heath, musicians David Van Deventer, Morgan Morrison and Madeline MacNeil as well as the Cistercian monks who live at Holy Cross Abbey in eastern Clarke County along the Shenandoah River.
The documentary is narrated by Martha Teichner of CBS Sunday Morning.
Patterson and Dain, collectively Picture Farmer Films, spent seven years filming, writing and editing “Saving Place, Saving Grace,” which examines theology, ecology, spirituality, science, reverence and relevance in the 21st century.
The focus of the film is the outcome of a yearlong study by graduate students at the University of Michigan. Understanding that Holy Cross Abbey and its 1,200 acres needs to be relevant and sustainable in an ever-changing world, the monks connected with the university’s environmental studies program in 2008. The study resulted in a 400-page report with recommendations on how the monks could care for the land.
The monks set priorities to protect the health of the Shenandoah River, restore natural habitats with native species, place the 1,200 acres in conservation easement and make their professional kitchen — a primary source of income for the monks — more energy-efficient.
In addition to leasing parcels of their land to a farmer who raises Angus cattle and another who grows organic produce, the monks also began offering green burials on the property.
“This film is the culmination of years of work,” Patterson said. “At its core, it is about community. It’s about the community of monks at Holy Cross, the Clarke County community and the greater community that depends on a healthy environment.”
The film also presents an intimate view of life at the Trappist monastery. “This was only possible because Deidra and I have had a relationship with the monks that goes back more than a decade. When you know the people involved, there’s a trust. On camera, we were simply having conversations, not interviews.
“That’s the difference between living a project and producing a project,” Patterson said. “I believe the viewers will appreciate that intimacy.”
Dain hopes the film may spark a calling. “A calling for young men who may consider the monastic life. A calling for the community to consider the balance of nature,” she said. “We may live in Clarke County, but local is also global.”
Nature, Dain said, is a universal truth that transcends religious beliefs.
Prior to the premiere of “Saving Place, Saving Grace,” Dain said her hope is that people will talk about the film and continue the conversation about saving place.
The film received thunderous applause and sparked lively conversation in the Barns of Rose Hill lobby.
“I’m incredibly encouraged about the future of this film, judging by the reaction of both audiences,” said Patterson, who hopes WVPT will forward the documentary to other PBS stations across the country. He also plans to enter it in film festivals.
“It was beautiful,” said Clarke County resident Elaine Dennison. “It reminds me of what we can do to preserve our land, and it makes me very proud of Clarke County.”
Longtime Berryville resident Maureen Castelhano said she learned so much more about Holy Cross Abbey, which has been at the Cool Spring Farm along the river since the 1950s.
The Morris family, of White Post, also learned more about the abbey. Susan Morris used to visit the property with her family when she was little. Her husband Clay, who earned his degree in environmental science and works in the environmental field, said the film is “fascinating. It’s amazing that the abbey and all it’s doing is right here in Clarke County.”
Eight-year-old Emmalene Morris wants to visit the abbey. Her 12-year-old brother Talon clearly would have preferred to have been outdoors than inside watching a documentary about it.
“I hope people who see the film talk about it at their own churches,” said Kurt Aschermann, who assists the monks with community outreach and is featured in the film. “Go back to your parish and talk about the abbey. That’s the most important thing.”
For in addition to preserving the land and improving the quality of the Shenandoah River, the abbey needs monks to continue. The youngest of the 11 monks who live at Holy Cross is 57 years old.
One of the monks, Father James — affectionately known as “the green monk” — attended the premiere.
“The film is great,” he said. “[It] is not a saccharine sweet story about monks,” he continued. “I want people to take away the urgency of our ecological environment and understand that it is not just scientific. The spiritual dimension will fuel how we care for the land.”
— Contact Cathy Kuehner at firstname.lastname@example.org