by writer/director Maggie Betts
Had anyone asked me ten years ago if I could ever see myself making a film about the experiences of Catholic nuns in the early 1960s, I probably would’ve told them they were crazy. Not only did I not grow up Catholic or with any religion as a particularly strong part of my background, but I also don’t think I ever gave religion a great deal of thought, as it always just seemed like something other people were into, and very separate from me. That is until about six years ago, when I happened to be in an airport and almost by accident stumbled upon this unusual little biography of Mother Theresa, called Come Be My Light. Moreover, while I assumed this book would probably just contain some kind of generic overview of the famed nun’s life, it turned out to be anything but. What the book mostly consisted of was an endless series of painfully intimate letters Mother Theresa had written over the course of her life, all of which were almost obsessively consumed with her love relationship with God. And I honestly didn’t have a clue before this, that nuns were actually married to God. Nor did I know that they literalized the relationship so intensely and completely, that the relationship felt as real to them as so many of our own most passionate affairs feel to us. Nor did I know the one thing that soon became the most powerful source of inspiration behind Novitiate: that nuns were actually such deeply romantic and intensely emotional people, women who were driven by love.
I wrote Novitiate because I saw in the world of nuns such a unique opportunity to explore a subject which has always been so moving to me—the subject of the way women love. And that is what remains the heart of the story for me. At the same time, I had never even heard of Vatican II until I began my research on the film. I had absolutely no awareness that there was this one event in history, largely responsible for wiping out a third of the population of nuns in a single decade. Vatican II is generally understood as a good thing, having brought about a series of very welcome reforms to the Church when it needed them most. Thus the idea that there was this whole other side to Vatican II, this unintended consequence that affected the lives of so many women in such innumerable ways, was deeply thought provoking to me.
I really could not have been more fortunate in the extraordinary group of people, predominantly women, that I was able to assemble to comprise the cast and crew of Novitiate. The experience of making the film has been one of the great and most profound creative journeys of my life, surrounded by fellow artists whose undying passion and commitment to the project continues to astound me.
It is such an honor and pleasure to be able to now share the film with so many members of Landmark’s audience. One which we are all so deeply grateful for.