The movie “Sanctified” shot in Badlands features a nun and an outlaw; Fargo Red Carpet Premiere – InForum
LOS ANGELES — While preparing for the new western movie, “Sanctified,” Tiffany Cornwell sought to live with a community of nuns in an abbey. Anticipating her role as Sister Hildegard, a fictional Benedictine nun from North Dakota, she wanted an immersive experience.
But it was early 2020 and an unexpected pandemic thwarted his plans. “There are quite a few nuns on Tik Tok, so I started messaging them, asking them questions,” Cornwell explains.
This was fruitful, along with additional research on North Dakota in 1890. It helped Cornwell discover that Hildegard’s parents would likely have immigrated here from a region of Europe fresh out of a religious schism. This wave of immigrants “had strong beliefs about freedom and human well-being,” she says, and many became members of the anti-slavery movement in America, bringing the beliefs that shaped them here.
This gave Cornwell a full Sister Hildegard image, allowing her to settle into the role. “You do the work, then you allow the work to exist within you.”
“Sanctified,” the second North Dakota film produced by Bismarck-based Canticle Productions, follows “A Heart Like Water,” which premiered last winter. In it, Sister Hildegard encounters an injured outlaw while traveling through the Badlands and nurses him back to health in exchange for being guided to Williston. The two develop a deep and unlikely friendship.
“Sanctified” will premiere at the iconic Fargo Theater just like the other, with two performances on Friday, October 14.
Cornwell, who played the titular character in “A Heart Like Water,” is also starring in the company’s upcoming film, “The End of the Rope.”
But playing Sister Hildegard was a special gift, she says. “She’s got a backbone going for her”, and although basically a “nobody”, she was “an incredibly strong, justice-oriented woman of God”. Tensions rise when Sister Hildegard confronts Shaw, “the other side of the coin”, who “chooses strength through violence and hatred, whereas she chose strength through love and sacrifice”.
She credits Nick Swedlund, the director and one of the screenwriters, with creating a “complex, multi-layered human character”.
Like Cornwell, who recently moved from the Twin Cities to Hollywood, Swedlund spent time in Los Angeles, eventually earning his master’s degree from the American Film Institute Conservatory. His growing family drew him to the Midwest, where he co-founded Lost Forty Studios, a movie studio in northern Minnesota.
Around 2016, Matt Roy, one of the producers of “Sanctified,” introduced Swedlund to Dan Bielinski, founder of Canticle Productions, and fellow “Sanctified” writer-actor.
Strengthen the scenario
After reading the script for “Wes and Hildy”, nicknames for the main characters, and the original title, Swedlund tried some rewrites of the film, “an unofficial application to make”, which became the final script for “Sanctified”.
“Westerns are like to America what Shakespeare is to England,” he says, the genre being “very quintessentially American,” with a long history of one-word titles. “Sanctified” seemed to work best for a story about a Catholic nun and an outlaw, as well as helping the “spiritual and biblical thematic concept” on which to hang the story.
Swedlund also increased the tension between the two characters, helping drive the storyline by “forcing them to stick together” and asking questions such as “Why do you become nuns?”
“I wanted to explore why people choose not just faith, but this level of devotion to faith,” says Swedlund, a non-Catholic Christian. “As it is 1890, it seemed more compelling to give (Sister Hildegard) a very traumatic reason” to turn to faith. Thus, he concocted “a horrible tragedy” that forced the character to choose between “either God or the grave” and “she chose to dedicate her life to God.”
Swedlund says the process allowed her to “wrestle on the page and the screen with the two halves of myself; the part that still believes and has faith, and the other part that is full of doubt,” and can become frustrated and even angry with God. “I can have my conscious internal battle on a Western canvas.”
Like Bielinski, Swedlund did not want the story to be didactic. Fortunately, “the (Western) genre lends itself to greatness, to larger-than-life ideas about faith and doubt,” he says, without becoming a preacher.
In the end, he says, it took the whole team to make it all come together in a way that Cornwell describes as “magical.” “It’s cool to hear reports that the set of ‘Sanctified’ was one of the best they’ve ever worked on,” says Swedlund, noting that leading a film crew is akin to leading an orchestra. , leading “with strength and compassion”.
‘We are here to stay’
Bielinski says he’s considering releasing this first trio of Phase I films of Canticle’s work, conveying, “We’re here to stay.”
“I want people to know that making North Dakota movies, like we do, isn’t just a one-time thing, it’s going to happen for years,” he says. “There are still plenty of North Dakota stories to tell.”
For those who saw “A Heart Like Water,” which included little to no dialogue, Bielinski says everything with “Sanctified” will be bigger.
“It’ll be a more traditional 90-minute runtime, and the scale will just be a lot bigger, with more characters,” he says, the “screen value” being higher. “‘A Heart Like Water’ was a success, but modest in its aims.”
Bielinski says Covid forced a delay in the film’s production, so it’s been a long time. “I’m excited to introduce this to people,” he adds. “It’s been quite a journey for us.”
He describes “Sanctified” as an “exciting, action-packed movie” that conveys a beautiful friendship between two people who wouldn’t normally be in the same company. “This is the story of redemption, through the interaction of this outlaw with a good nun, who is unlike anyone he has ever met before,” he says, “but her care and his kindness really redeem him at the end of the film.”
The scenario stands out in our modern world, he says, where many ancient forms and customs seem to have disappeared. “For some reason we’ve become proud of tradition and formality, but there’s something really beautiful and mysterious about it,” he says. “In a way, it mimics the beauty and mystery of who God is.”
In her own research, Bielinski found that the Benedictine nuns who came to the Dakota Territory were “really tough.” “It was the Wild West in Bismarck – there were shooters and outlaws. To come here and establish a school and a hospital and interact with the colorful characters of this town, at this point, it took a lot of courage to do so, and this is reflected in Sister Hildegarde.
“Sanctified” was filmed in the spring of 2021 at Badlands Ministry Bible Camp, just two days after a major snowstorm. “Fortunately, it warmed up and the snow melted as we were filming, but it was scary to see it pile up” just before, Bielinski shares.
The set included guns, horses and lots of stunts, he adds, but it all went well, with no accidents.
Bielinski says no matter the content or the crew, he strives to bring glory to God in his work and to honor the good, the true and the beautiful.
“It also has to be good storytelling to engage people,” he says, noting that a successful Christian film will appeal to everyone, regardless of faith or tradition, by drawing audiences deeply into the characters, which he believes “Sanctified” accomplishes.
The upcoming premiere will be “heightened and as elegant as possible,” he says, with people coming from Minneapolis. “It should be even more of an experience this time around.”
What: ‘Sanctified’ movie premiere and red carpet event; Q&A with the filmmakers
When: 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Friday, October 14
Where: The Fargo Theater, 314 Broadway, Fargo
Contact: Tickets, $20, sold at https://www.sanctifiedfilm.com/ (tickets) or by emailing [email protected]