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The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun

The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun is a film by the Danish filmmaker Pernille Rose Grønkjær, which documents the process by which an elderly Dane, Jørgen Laursen Vig, intent on his legacy being made by transforming his castle and property into a monastery, comes to experience the actual process of this, as a nun (under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate), Mother Amvrosija, comes with a couple of helpers to see first if the project is feasible, and then to lead the project. This documentary was filmed over the course of six years.

Background

Jørgen Laursen Vig, was born on August 31, 1918 in Bjerager at Odder in Denmark. He was an ordained Lutheran pastor who had a passion for Eastern religion, particularly Buddhism. He was a university librarian and lifelong learner; among other things, he learned to read at least 15 languages, also coming to speak most of these as well. When he purchased Hesbjerg Castle in 1957, he hoped that he could transform the property to be a "mixed" monastery of some sort - allowing those of different religious backgrounds to encounter each other and pray together.

However, as time progressed, Mr. Vig found himself looking at Orthodoxy, first coming in contact with Russian emigres in France while he was a student at the Sorbonne. He spent 1996, he spent a year in St. Petersburg, Russia studying at an ecclesiastical academy. However, he was not chrismated an Orthodox Christian until 2002, which was during the time period the film covers (2000-2006).

By 1996, Mr. Vig had already let contacts of his know that he was interested in his property becoming an Orthodox monastery, though it wasn't until 2000 that he officially sent word to the Moscow Patriarchate. At first the offer wasn't seriously considered, but Abbess Nikona of the Shamordino women's monastery, which at that time was being reconstructed, had some interest and was allowed to travel to Denmark to inspect the property. Accompanying her on this journey was the nun Amvrosija, who would eventually become the head of the renovation project of Hesbjerg Castle.

The Film

Grønkjær started working on the film from the first time she met Vig, in the year 2000. At this point, the only backing she had for the film was for equiptment, which she was able to get a permanent loan. She was unsuccessful in getting additional backing for the project, and so she had no strict deadlines which she had to meet to finish. At one point, she lived in a trailer on the Hesbjerg property, which allowed her to get many good shots of the landscape, scenery, seasons, and daily life at the castle. She accumulated footage over the next five years, eventually ending up with more than 100 hours of good footage. She became a good friend to all involved in the film, garnering their trust, and leading them to be very unselfconscious when she was filming.

The story is ostensibly about the renovation of a castle into a monastery; however, it is the convergence and conflict of personality that makes the story interesting. Mr. Vig has never been married, has never been close to more than a couple of people in his life, and yet has this dream of what he would like his legacy to be. The nun Amvrosija enters his life and his home in order to help him do this, but she is quite strong-willed herself. The castle is in poor repair, and as issues with the building and the monastery project come up, they have their disagreements, but also come to a point of great respect and affection for each other.

The film won the following awards:

  • 2008 Best International Feature - Cinema Eye Award, New York (US)
  • 2008 Best Documentary - Bodil Awards (Denmark)
  • 2007 Full Frame Grand Jury Award - Full Frame Festival, Durham (US)
  • 2007 The Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award - Full Frame Festival, Durham (US)
  • 2007 Chicago Doc Grand Prix - Chicago International Doc Festival 2007 (US)
  • 2007 Millennium Award - Planete Doc Review Film Festival (Poland)
  • 2007 The Kino magazine Award - Planete Doc Review Film Festival (Poland)
  • 2007 Canvas Award - Docville Film Festival (Belgium)
  • 2007 FIPRESCI Award for Best Documentary - Sydney Film Festival (Australia)
  • 2007 Audience Award - Moscow International Film Festival (Russia)
  • 2006 1st Prize - The Joris Ivens Award - IDFA, Amsterdam (The Netherlands)

The Monastery

Mr. Vig died in India on December 28, 2005. He had been ill, but had still wanted to attend a world peace conference that was being held there. He also believed that the warm weather would help him feel better. However, while he was there, he caught pneumonia, and succumbed to it before he could return home.

At the time of his death, the monastery was not finished, and the terms with the Moscow Patriarchate had not been finalized. The property itself was left to a Danish foundation which he had established to take care of the property after his death. Although the relationship between the nuns and the foundation board seems somewhat adversarial in the film, in an interview, Matushka Amvrosij said that this is not necessarily so, although even three years after Vig's death, they were working through all the legalities not just in regard to the foundation, but with the Danish government in regard to matters such as zoning and property use.

The Royal Martyrs of Russia Church

Hesbjerg Castle is now the home to The Royal Martyrs of Russia Church (Danish: De Hellige Russiske Kongelike Martyres Kirche).


Sources