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"Sisters" is a fascinating, inside look at the life of a community of nuns in a monastery. The Telly Award-winning “Sisters” documentary will have its nationwide premiere on the PBS series Independent Lens on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2005 at 10 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. CT (check local listings for dates and times in your area).
The program was produced by Tom Livingston and Jack Lind of Pro Video Productions (Duluth, Minn.) and John Hanson of Northern Pictures (Bayfield, Wis.).
"Sisters" is Pro Video’s first venture into feature documentary work. The inspiration for the program was Sister Noemi Weygant, who had a major influence on Livingston and Lind. Sister Noemi, who died in 1997, was a nationally acclaimed nature photographer and a photographic arts instructor at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minn., where Livingston and Lind studied.
Shot over a two-year period, the revealing documentary captures the many different faces of the sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery as they pursue a life of work, prayer and leisure -- the three aspects of monastic life as prescribed by St. Benedict in the sixth century. From elderly nuns still wearing the traditional habit to younger inductees accustomed to the freedom of modern life, from singing the psalms together in chapel to cheering the Minnesota Vikings on TV, the sisters live and work together with spirit, conviction and wit.
St. Scholastica Monastery was founded in 1892, from Benedictine roots in Eichstatt, Bavaria, and a subsequent American monastic community in St. Mary's, Penn. In 1909, the sisters established their permanent and present-day home on, what was at the time, farmland overlooking Lake Superior on the outskirts of Duluth. As active monastics, the sisters worked primarily in education and health care, eventually building or staffing more than 50 schools, numerous hospitals, nursing homes and orphanages throughout Minnesota and six other states. At its peak, the community had more than 500 sisters, a full complement of novices in formation, a high school and the College of St. Scholastica. Today, fewer than 150 sisters remain in the community; the average age is nearly 80; few young women are entering the order; and there is increasing pressure to adapt to contemporary life. Their dwindling numbers are reflective of those across America. In 1965, there were close to 180,000 nuns; by 2004, that number had declined to 70,000.
In the film, a wide cross-section of sisters open up to the camera, telling about their chosen lives. Opening with a funeral for a community elder, "Sisters" goes inside the convent and follows its daily life of communal prayer and ritual, music rehearsals, teaching, tending to the sick, gardening, dining and socializing together. As one sister says, "We are a microcosm of the world. We are just like any other group of people -- some days we get along better than others." These often surprising images of monastic life break the traditional stereotype of nuns and reveal the sisters as complex and diverse human beings.
Throughout the film, the sisters talk candidly about their hopes and concerns, the future of the monastery, and their commitment to a Benedictine way of life. Older sisters complain they can't do as much as they used to -- their bodies won't bend, their fingers won't grasp anymore -- then they laugh and joke about "the golden years." Young novices are rare these days. Many new sisters come to the monastery in middle age, after marriage, children, and career, drawn by the monastic ideal as well as the Benedictine commitment to service and social justice. One new sister admits that it isn't always easy: "Some days I want a pet, I want a beer -- there are days like that." As another sister says, "After you get through the rough times of thinking that life is greener on the other side of the fence, as you age, you realize it really isn't. Life is life wherever you go, and it's a tradeoff. You trade one set of freedoms for another. That's all -- one set of happinesses for another."
The film also follows several sisters as they work in ministries outside the convent. One elderly sister volunteers at a hospice in a Duluth hospital originally founded by the monastery. Another group serves meals to the homeless at Union Gospel Mission, an expression of the Benedictine commitment to serve the poor. At the McCabe Renewal Center, three sisters staff a counseling and healing center open to anyone seeking spiritual renewal. One of the sisters there, an ex-nurse, has become a masseuse. She and her colleagues at the Renewal Center also incorporate a feminine God in their daily prayers. They know their lifestyle at the Renewal Center bothers some of the older, more traditional sisters “up on the hill,” but as one of them says with a smile, "They don't bother us -- they're probably praying for us."
Warm, surprising and moving, "Sisters" is a look at an often-misunderstood world and portrays the sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery in all their complexity and humanity.
The "Sisters" interactive companion website features detailed information about the film, including an interview with the filmmakers, and links and resources pertaining to the film's subject matter. The site also features a Talkback section for viewers to share their ideas and opinions, preview clips of the film, and more.
To purchase a copy of the "Sisters" DVD video, click here - http://provideoproductions.com/index.php?page=contact.php