Ten years ago, Blis DeVault stood in the woods with her camera and a former hippie-turned-farmer named Paul Strauss. He was showing her a trillium flower he’d been visiting every year for about 30 years.
“This guy has a relationship with a flower and looks forward to seeing it every spring,” DeVault said. “I thought, ‘I need to do something more about who this person is.’ People don’t even stay married for 30 years, let alone he has this relationship with this flower.”
And so began DeVault’s journey telling Strauss’ odyssey in her award-winning documentary, “Sanctity of Sanctuary: Paul Strauss and the Equinox Farm.”
On Wednesday, Feb. 5, DeVault, an assistant professor of Communication Arts, shares that odyssey with Cincinnati, screening “Sanctity of Sanctuary” at the Esquire Theatre in Cincinnati’s Clifton neighborhood at 7:30 p.m. Interested viewers should RSVP for the free screening.
The story begins in the 1960s, when Strauss rejected the consumer lifestyle of New York City and hitchhiked across the country. Along the way, he learned the values of Native American tribes of the West before settling in Hocking Hills, Ohio.
He bought a tract of land left bare by strip mines and, over the next 40 years, rehabilitated it by slowly restoring it to its natural state. Today, Strauss is a renowned herbalist, teaching the values and importance of sustainability. He helped create the United Plant Savers Sanctuary to preserve endangered medicinal plants.
At the heart of the film lies Strauss’ passion for nature and his challenge for living a sustainable life.
“Sanctity of Sanctuary” debuted at the Byron Bay International Film Festival in Australia where it won Best Environmental Film. It went on to showings at numerous film festivals across the globe before its Ohio debut at the 2013 Cincinnati Film Festival, where it won Best Regional Film.
“It’s nice to get the awards,” DeVault said. “ It helps raise money and is great for publicity. But to get it out and have people see it—see them fall in love with Paul and embrace the message—that’s what I do it for.”
DeVault has directed and produced numerous documentary films that have aired on Public Broadcast Service. However, “Sanctity of Sanctuary” is her first independently produced feature-length film. Such independence gives DeVault complete control and ownership of her work, granting her the freedom to make the film in her own vision and at a level of quality worthy of entry into the world of film festivals.
The film also reflects Xavier’s commitment to sustainability, an important aspect for DeVault. In 2008, Xavier joined the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment and created a Sustainability Committee that works toward the goal of a sustainable Earth through a variety of initiatives, programs and events.
“Xavier’s focus on sustainability and social justice was a big reason why I chose to come here,” DeVault said, “because all my work is rooted in it.”
“Sanctity of Sanctuary” is also being screened at the Lloyd Library in Cincinnati at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 21, and at Kennedy Auditorium on Xavier’s campus at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 26.