CHOSEN (CUSTODY OF THE EYES)
Set within the Corpus Christi Monastery in Rockford, Illinois, Chosen (Custody of the Eyes) forms an intimate portrait of Heather*, a former blogger and painter confronting what she believes is her calling: Becoming a cloistered contemplative nun in one of the strictest religious orders.
Chosen is a coming-of-age story by filmmaker Abbie Reese in collaboration with Heather, the film's primary subject and cinematographer. The Novice Mistress deemed this project a "once in a lifetime" occurrence, with a video camera allowed into the enclosure to capture monastic life from the inside.
*The young woman selected the alias "Heather" to reflect the Poor Clare Colettine pursuit of anonymity.
Since 1965, the number of religious sisters in the United States has dropped 74 percent (from 179,954 to 47,170 in 2016), according to CARA (the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University). A fraction of these religious sisters are cloistered nuns—not active and in the world, but making a vow of enclosure, to withdraw from the world and pray for humanity.
The Jesus Cage is a two-fold project: An ethnographic film that tells the stories of cloistered nuns, and an interactive website—a digital archive—of how cloistered nuns, who choose a life of separateness from the world, have impacted the communities in which they reside. We are documenting stories of spiritual change (answered and unanswered prayers, affecting faith and resilience), as well as tangible exchanges. Two former active sisters are volunteer helpers, who run errands for cloistered nuns and drive them to appointments. Other locals deliver homegrown produce.
Cloistered nuns remove themselves from the world in order to mediate, through their prayers, on behalf of humanity. They believe that their pleas and penances can change the course of history. A feature-length ethnographic film is in post-production, with a rough cut completed. While Chosen (Custody of the Eyes) forms an intimate portrait of one young woman's journey into a cloistered monastery, The Jesus Cage is intended to provide a broader view (a survey, in a sense) of monastic life from the vantage of cloistered nuns at various stages of life as cloistered contemplatives, via interviews and with footage recorded by the nuns, themselves.