Inquiring Nuns

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Inquiring Nuns
Directed by
  • Sister Marie Arné
  • Sister Mary Campion
CinematographyGordon Quinn
Edited byGordon Quinn
Music byPhilip Glass
Distributed byKartemquin Films
Release date
  • 1968 (1968)
Running time
66 min.

Inquiring Nuns is a 1968 Kartemquin Films production directed by Gordon Quinn and Gerald Temaner. The documentary film features Sisters Marie Arne and Mary Campion, two young Catholic nuns who visit a variety of Chicago locales to ask people the question, "Are you happy?"[1] They meet a variety of individuals ranging from hippie musicians to intellectuals, whose responses are everything from the mundane to the spiritual. The film was directly influenced by Jean Rouch's Chronique d'un été,[2] which Quinn and Temaner had watched at Doc Films while they were undergraduates at the University of Chicago. The film was shot on Kartemquin's "Camera #1," a custom-modified crystal sync Auricon with a used manual zoom lens Quinn purchased from Albert Maysles, and to which he added a World War II gunner handle bought from a pawn shop as an extra grip for steadiness.[3]

Quinn and Temaner's fourth collaboration was produced for about $16,000 ($110,005 US in 2016) for Chicago's Catholic Adult Education Center which never suggested any changes or requested a single edit. Both Sisters Marie Arne (now named Kathleen Westling) and Mary Campion (now named Catherine Rock)[4] served at the St. Denis Parish in Chicago's Southwest Side at the time of the filming. They subsequently left the sisterhood within a few years after the film's release, the former eventually becoming a family counselor in the Chicago suburbs and the latter a school superintendent in Florida. One of the random people they encountered in the film was Stepin Fetchit who showed a few of his publicity shots and stated that he was happy.[3]

An Official Selection of the 1968 Chicago International Film Festival, Inquiring Nuns features music by the then relatively unknown composer Philip Glass (Truman Show, The Fog of War) who was paid $100 ($688 US in 2016) for earning his first film credit.[3][5]

Entertainment Weekly graded Inquiring Nuns an 'A' and applauded the film's "reaffirmation of the virtue of conventional wisdom."[6]

In 2018, Kartemquin received a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation for a new restoration of the original 16mm print, and collaborated with Argot Pictures on a 50th Anniversary release of the film in US theaters.

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