A Catholic Icon
New documentary explores last years
of Thomas Merton's life
This is the second project on Merton
by filmmaker Atkinson
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (March 2015) –Thomas Merton has long been revered for his deep, soul searching thoughts and the timeless truths he taught to others. Even 47 years after his death, Merton’s influence is still felt by many, and a new documentary chronicles his last years.
Filmmaker Morgan Atkinson said he “has always been fascinated with the last years of Merton’s life.” So much so, that he has recently produced his second film about Merton titled, “The Many Storeys and Last Days of Thomas Merton.”
• To purchase a copy of “The Many Storeys and Last Days of Thomas Merton” for $25, visit: www.tommerton.com.
“Since the mid to late ’70s, I’ve been interested in his works,” said Atkinson, who owns his own video production company, Duckworks Inc. Originally from Louisville, Atkinson has also produced a film about Harlan and Anna Hubbard called “Wonder: The Lives of Anna and Harlan Hubbard.”
Six years ago, Atkinson produced “Soul Searching: The Journey of Thomas Merton.”
“It was well received and aired nationally on PBS,” said Atkinson. Knowing this year would mark the 100th birthday of Merton, Atkinson thought the timing was right to release another film about the person who has been labeled “one of the most influential American Catholic authors of the 20th century.”
A showing of “The Many Storeys and Last Days of Thomas Merton” is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 6, at the St. Matthews Episcopal Church, located on Rudy Lane in Louisville. A second showing is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, March 14, in Bardstown, Ky at the Nelson County Public Library.
Merton was born in 1915 in Prades, France. His father was New Zealand-born Owen Merton, and his mother was American-born Ruth Jenkins. Both parents were artists.
Merton’s autobiography, “The Seven Storey Mountain,” was published in 1948. It has sold more than 1 million copies and been translated into more than 15 languages. He wrote more than 60 books and hundreds of poems and articles on topics such as monastic spirituality, civil rights and the nuclear arms race.
During the end of Merton’s life (he died in 1968), he professed a deep interest in Asian religions. His trip to Asia and the events that were going on in American at this time had a profound effect on Merton, said Atkinson.
“He was a remarkable human being. I’m amazed at how complex and complicated he was,” Atkinson said. “He was always searching; looking for the deeper things in life.”
Penny Sisto is an artist interviewed by Atkinson about Merton. “When she speaks about Merton, she says he’s still relevant today.” Sisto made the comment that “he spoke the truth.”
For research material for this film, Atkinson relied on the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University in Louisville. Dr. Paul Pearson, Director and Archivist of Thomas Merton Studies at the university, said that in 1967 Merton made the university “the official repository of his estate.”
Contained in the collection at Bellarmine University are Merton’s books, his working notebooks and correspondence in the form of more than 20,000 letters. “New letters continue to come to light,” said Pearson.
In 1962, Merton’s lectures were first recorded. More than 400 recordings of him teaching students are in the collection. It also contains Merton’s artwork and “a broad range of materials. It is by far the largest collection” contained in one spot.
Pearson was able to view the film before it debuted to the public on Jan. 31 and said that “the things in the film touch on Merton’s relevance today. Atkinson did an excellent job delving into the final year of his life.”
Pearson said Merton is still impacting the world today. “Some countries are just now discovering him. The amount of interest is phenomenal.” A century after his birth, 50 new books have been written about Merton.
“It’s amazing that someone in an enclosed monastic community had such a far-reaching aspect on the world,” said Pearson.
Atkinson is hard at work on a new project about Bear Grass Creek. More information about Atkinson and his works can be found at www.morganatkinson.com.
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