The Pursuit of Happiness and Inquiring Nuns

To coincide with the DVD release of cinema verite landmark Chronicle of a Summer, Chris Borrelli of The Chicago Tribune interviewed Kartemquin's Gordon Quinn about our 1968 film Inquiring Nuns, which was inspired by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin's great documentary. Both films form around a crucial question, asked to members of the public: "Are you happy?"

Read "A loaded question for you: Are you happy?" and find out more about how both films continue to inspire a diverse legacy of unusual tributes and cultural influence.

Here are some highlights:

     - "French studies scholar Sam Di Iorio writes that Rouch and Morin's initial idea was tidy, "a film about life itself, using nondirective interviews with ordinary subjects." The result, however, proved so radically different, contradictory and forward-thinking that, as Criterion producer Issa Clubb said in a phone interview, “if you can't, in 2013, see the evolutionary importance of 'Chronicle,' that may be because it's everywhere, a victim of its own success, just soaked into the world."

     - Gordon Quinn: “We got excited by how it let the filmmakers take a role in their own film and become directly engaged with the subjects. Plus, that question, ‘Are you happy?' Wow, I mean, coming out of University of Chicago we felt deeply philosophical and were interested in something that touched on a platonic sense of happiness and good. Not to mention, what else would a couple of nice Jewish boys do but make a movie for a Catholic group?”

     - ‘Inquiring Nuns’ is as American, direct and straightforward as “Chronicle” is impossibly French and elusive.”

     - “Chronicle” is deeply political, revealing disparities of class and opportunity; instead of arriving at a definition of happiness, it identifies with a silent majority. “Nuns,” as a portrait of a time, is arguably even more nuanced: Though most people tell the inquiring nuns that they are happy, as the film goes on, discord wafts in: A man says he would slit his throat (“I would”) if he thought deeply on the question; a visiting European mathematician says he is happy but has noticed many small, subtle moments of discontent. Indeed, it's a year before Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated, setting off riots across the South and West sides, a year before heads crack in Grant Park during the Democratic National Convention.

Inquiring Nuns is available on DVD from our store. Chronicle of a Summer is available from Criterion Collection. For more on the similarities between the two films, documentary filmmaking in 1960's and 1970's Chicago, and the legacy of Jean Rouch, read a 3-part series of interviews between Gordon Quinn, Judy Hoffman and The Chicago Reader's Ben Sachs.