"Sister Amataʼs voice is riveting: itʼs always a mix of calm and excitement; measured tones with ripples of wonder. This I think is the aural centre to the world depicted as captured through her psychological/ spiritual lens. The raw purity of the sound enhances the act of self-revelation/self-inquiry Sister Amata presents to us."
– Philip Brophy, filmmaker and artist
"(This) window into the world of contemplatives ... is a one-of-a-kind film - filling a void previously filled by Hollywood or perceived as so mysterious that stereotypes fill by default. ."
– Carol Coburn, PhD and Professor of Religious Studies and Women's and Gender Studies at Avila University
“With such a restrained hand you have successfully allowed the viewer to be completely drawn into this secret world. Above all else, your passion for this subject matter came through not just from your footage, but also your proficient treatment.”
– Artist Programs and Documentary Programming, Tribeca Film Institute
“I worked one-on-one with Abbie Reese while she was in residence at the University of Bern’s Institute of Social Anthropology. I like both the visual quality of Abbie’s film work (her camera) as well as the close relationship she has with her protagonists. I found her idea of passing the camera to one of the nuns (from a point of view of Visual Anthropology) especially intriguing. The nun’s personal “video letters” (or diary) from the inside integrate well with Abbie’s work from the outside. There seems to be a dialogue, which not only works on the level of speech (conversations), but also on the visual level (camera). The potential for the field of Visual Anthropology that I find in this film project lies exactly in this double dialogue, which makes the film an ongoing experiment of collaboration and not just an insightful film about the nuns.”
– Luc Schaedler, Ph.D. in Visual Anthropology; Filmmaker
In my interdisciplinary relationship- and research-based artistic practice — a hybrid of experimental and documentary filmmaking with oral history and ethnographic methodologies — focuses on primary oral cultures and enclosed communities. I am interested in the — the liminal phase or transformation within a rite of passage; the construction of individual and cultural identity; and the performances of social roles.
Since 2005 I have worked with a cloistered contemplative community. Family members are allowed up to four visits a year, always separated by a metal grille. Simultaneously to this work, I arranged to meet a young woman considering joining the community. For six years, she hovered along a psychological edge, encountering the possibility that she had been chosen, by God, for a radical, countercultural life. In 2011, she entered the Corpus Christi Monastery.
"Heather"* made an exodus from our world. "Sister Amata"* is attempting to assimilate into the ancient order. Just as the enclosure is an intermediary physical space (in which the nuns mediate on behalf of humanity, believing that their prayers and penances can change the course of history), Sister Amata also inhabits a threshold – a space between worlds.
Chosen materializes my vision for a “visual dialogue” depicting one woman’s interior journey into a new social role, identity, and culture; it embeds formally the tensions and negotiations of a para-ethnographic documentary. Acting as director with my collaborators (and subjects) who eschew the limelight, the film was recorded from the vantage point of a young woman in a liminal phase attempting to assimilate into a heterotopia.
A theme is the nuns' grappling with their fate and their own agency. The nuns mediate on behalf of humanity through their penances and in prayer; I intended the camera to mediate, provoking and recording action with cinéma vérité, intimate confessionals, and direct cinema to yield contradictory and complicated public-private performances.
*Both names are aliases she selected to reflect her community's pursuit of anonymity