The documentary about Br. Joseph is an inspiring true tale involving folk art, Alabama history, perseverance, and a life of devotion
In 1892, a young lad - 14 years of age from Landshut, Bavaria, braved the seas to America. Br. Joseph Zoettl left his family to become part of monastic community life at St. Bernard Abbey.
Br. Joseph had an affection for religious life not found in many countries today. His talent for creating small pieces of work out of cement and cast off materials, to creating miniature shrines of churches and landmarks which are now on display in a four-acre garden park in Cullman, Alabama known as Ave Maria Grotto, has left a legacy of labor and love for many generations to come.It was his talent that inspired siblings, Cliff Vaughn, documentary filmmaker at Red Clay Pictures in Nashville, Tennessee, and Carol Ann Vaughn Cross, a professor at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama to join forces bringing to life a documented story celebrating Br. Joseph’s life of perseverance, humility and dedication.
Vaughn grew up in Huntsville and had known about the Grotto all of his life, but it was when he heard Kate Campbell’s song, “Ave Maria Grotto,” that he felt this story had cinematic qualities, so he tucked it away in the back of his mind and more than ten years later decided the time was right.Vaughn said, “My sister, Carol Ann, has a PhD. in History with a concentration in the American South, and we were very interested particularly because the story takes place in Alabama creating a strong interest for the film. It has a religious and spiritual effect which speaks to people whether religious or not, and the work itself speaks of Br. Joseph’s talents as a folk artist.”
Vaughn and Cross spent many hours researching Br. Joseph’s life combing through the archives at St. Bernard Abbey and finding all kinds of interesting things pertaining to his work, Vaughn said. “There were literally hundreds of postcards from everywhere that people had sent to Br. Joseph.”
“Br. Joseph was a man of perseverance, humility and had values that don’t get celebrated,” commented Vaughn.
The filming of the documentary took place at the Abbey at St. Bernard – the powerhouse and the Ave Maria Grotto—and a horse farm in Franklin, Tennessee. A couple of locations in Nashville were used as well. The cast included seven members, with the younger Brother Joseph and older Brother Joseph being played by a father and son.
“It was put together very well,” Abbot Cletus said. “It was very interesting to note the changes in America when Br. Joseph came from Bavaria in 1892. Br. Joseph lived to see history in the making from the invention of electricity, the Great Depression, World War I and II to living in the same state as the famous W.C. Handy and Helen Keller.”
Vaughn was beside himself with the excitement shared at St. Bernard and how receptive the community was to the film. “Saint Bernard Abbey and the people of Cullman were most hospitable while we made "Brother Joseph and the Grotto," and last Thursday night's premiere at the Abbey Byre for the Arts was no exception. Everything was top-notch -- fitting for a celebration of Brother Joseph, who has given so much to our state.”
A reception was held before the premiere with passed appetizers being served by students of St. Bernard Prep School. A local brewery, Straight to Ale, out of Huntsville premiered their new brew, dedicated to the memory of Br. Joseph and the Grotto, Brother Joseph’s Belgian Dubbel. Music was provided by the Saint Bernard Prep School Jazz Band.
Fr. Marcus Voss, Director of Development, opened the evening with a prayer and introduced Kate Campbell whose song inspired the idea for the movie.
Students at St. Bernard were treated to a private showing the following Friday.
While the energy of the premiere will be tough to duplicate, Vaughn looks forward to sharing the film in other venues. http://brotherjosephmovie.com shows other events already being lined up (Nov. 9 at Samford, Nov. 17 in Elba, Dec. 12 at Wallace State, and more to come!).