Friday, January 30, 2015

"Sacred as Folk" - A Review

About eight years ago I saw a man dressed in monk’s robes walking down the street in Natchitoches. I wondered what that was about, but I drove on. Then, I saw him again on my next trip to Natchitoches. I kept seeing him. He was an older man. In addition to the robes, he wore a large-brimmed straw hat and he was often carrying a Styrofoam beverage container.

Mostly, I saw him around the Front Street area. One time, though, I saw him way over on South Drive near Maggio’s. He was walking and it was cold. I almost stopped and offered him a ride. At that time, though, I still didn’t know whether he was a real monk or a crazy person. I didn’t offer him a ride. I wish I had.

Once, I saw him on Front Street standing outside a store that sold Catholic religious items. He was talking to two priests. I still thought he might just be an old eccentric who liked to dress as a monk. I imagined that the priests were feeling him out so they could report back to the Vatican on the fake friar roaming around Natchitoches.

Eventually, my curiosity led me to Google “Natchitoches monk” and I found out that the man I was seeing really was a monk. His name was Brother Michael David Elvestrom. He had been an art teacher at the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts and he was an accomplished artist.

A few days ago I attended the premiere screening of a documentary about Brother Michael David.

Sacred as Folk was made by first-time filmmakers Matt Petty and David Steele. Both of them are adjunct professors of music at Northwestern State University.

I wanted to see the documentary primarily to get answers to some of the questions I’ve had about Brother Michael David. The stories people who have known him for decades tell about him in the film satisfied a lot of my curiosity, but removing some of the mystery did not make Brother Michael David any less interesting. He more than lives up to his public persona. The vignettes with Brother Michael David at his home (which he named “Our Lady of the Lake Hermitage”) are wonderful. He’s almost like a fairy-tale character, like a wizard, like a fey Obi-Wan Kenobi, but the documentary reminds us that he’s a human in the real world.

Brother Michael David is known, by some, as “The Drunk Monk.” There’s a scene in which one of Brother Michael David’s longtime peers talks about his alcoholism and the effect it’s had on him. That was a little uncomfortable to watch, especially since Brother Michael David was in the audience, but I think a straightforward acknowledgement of that problem gave the film and the character it portrays a depth that would have been missing if the film had only been a series of lighthearted episodes about the lovable local eccentric.

The film touches on his religious beliefs, but not as much as you might think it would given its title and his vocation. Brother Michael David’s spirituality seems more eclectic and fluid than what I would expect from a Christian monk, though it’s about what I would expect from an artist who came of age in the 1960s.

Given that the filmmakers are both music teachers, it’s not surprising that the film’s use of music is one of its greatest technical strengths. I was pleased, though, to see that the film also works visually. The lens they used, the shots they composed, and the effects they applied in editing all work. Natchitoches is one of the most visually interesting cities in Louisiana and they make good use of the setting. Also, the subject of the film is a talented visual artist, so that probably helped them.

A second showing of Sacred as Folk is planned for February 10, 2015, at 6:15 pm at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches.


Anonymous said...


Michael David Elvestrom was once a member of the Episcoplalian brotherhood, The Brotherhood of Saint Gregory.

Several years ago he left that order and is no longer a member of that brotherhood.

He also left the Espicopal Church and walked down the street to the Roman Catholic one. Somewhere along the line he convinced himself and others that he is now some self-styled Franciscan Monk. Nothing is further from the truth. He has never worn the garb of a Franciscan; he continues to wear the garb of the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory.

Franciscans take a strict vow of poverty and would never be able to own a house as Michael David Elvestron does.

He is a talented artist and made a strong contribution when he taught at the Louisiana School.

The tale of the Natchitoches Franciscan does a diservice to Michael David as is does to the thousands of Franciscans throughout the world.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fact Checker,

I am guessing that you haven't seen the documentary. If you have, then you would know that the film is not necessarily about "FACTS." The film more explores Brother Michael David's life as a spiritual person and artist. Regardless of what is factual, B.M.D. is very much a spiritual person. Much of the film explores how his spirituality is influenced by art.

I personally don't think it really matters what B.M.D. is claiming to be true. That is NOT what this film is about. It's more about how he views himself as a visionary and artist (beyond the canvas). It's an artistic portrait of B.M.D. that is really quite remarkable.

WATCH THE FILM before you make any judgments about B.M.D. or his disservice to any religious order.

Here's a fact:
-You have missed the entire point of the film....