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Sister Helen


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Product Details

  • Actors: Paul La Greca
  • Directors: Rebecca Cammisa, Rob Fruchtman
  • Producers: Rebecca Cammisa, Rob Fruchtman
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Docurama
  • DVD Release Date: December 28, 2004
  • Run Time: 90 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00061QJKI
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,205 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Sister Helen" on IMDb

Special Features

  • Additional scenes
  • Additional interviews
  • Sundance Awards live
  • Resources
  • Filmmaker biographies

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

One of the most unanimously acclaimed documentaries in recent years and winner of the coveted Sundance Film Festival Directing Award, this emotionally compelling film is an inspirational and uplifting portrait of a truly colorful and most unusual New York character. Brash, foul-mouthed, and no-nonsense, Sister Helen Travis is not your typical saintly soul. A recovering alcoholic who lost her husband and sons to substance abuse, she single-handedly fights her own war on drugs as director of a halfway house for recovering addicts in NYC’s South Bronx. Filmmakers Rob Fruchtman and Rebecca Cammisa put their fly-on-the-wall, cinema verité technique to expert use as they vividly capture the complex love/hate relationship between this tough-as-nails nun and the men who both fear her and rely on her to help them battle their own inner demons. Inspired by Sinatra’s "my-way-or-the-highway" mantra, Sister Helen runs a tight ship in which everyone must obey her rules and the hand that writes them. For the residents who wish to permanently kick the habit, this sobering dose of tough love may be their last and only hope.

Amazon.com

Sister Helen offers a candid look at an unconventional nun. Tough-talking Sister Helen Travis is a recovered alcoholic who reinvented herself at age 56, after the loss of her husband and sons, by joining the Benedictine order in 1986. Two years later, she opened a recovery center for men in the rat-infested South Bronx (literally--the tenants battle several during the course of the film). As Sister Helen explains, "I try to do for other people's sons what I didn't do for my own. It's a second chance." Daughter Mary helps out at the center, but life mostly revolves around men like Major, an alcoholic, and Robert, a crack addict. They're everything to her and she to them--mother, counselor, warden. Her rules are strict (no female visitors, regular urine tests, community service), but her love and support is boundless. Sister Helen is a worthy testament to an unforgettable character. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Matthew G. Sherwin HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 5, 2008
Format: DVD
Sister Helen is a superb, insightful documentary partly about Helen Travis, who at 56 became a nun. Two years later, Sister Helen opened a transitional home for men who were addicted to drugs or alcohol. Sister Helen has her personal reasons for trying to help these down and out men: her life had already been very rough. Indeed, Helen Travis had endured more than most of us could ever bear. She lost her husband to alcoholism; one of her sons died of a drug overdose and another son was stabbed seventeen times at the tender age of fifteen.

In order to have empathy for Helen, you need to keep in mind that she came from a tough as nails, rough background. Sister Helen may have been wearing a nun's habit; but yes, she DID keep her own ways. She was very foul-mouthed; and she DID use her power to boss around the men who lived in her transitional home. This is going to cause great controversy because there are some of us who believe that nuns should not swear and refer to urine as some other four letter word which I will not repeat here.

On the other hand, I saw Sister Helen doing a lot of good for the residents of her home. Let's face it: these were people whose lives had been destroyed by their overpowering addictions to drugs and alcohol. This is often precisely the type of person who needs a tough mentor to lead them away from drugs and alcohol and back toward a life of sobriety. I should know: as the son of an alcoholic, drug addicted mother, I will never forget how hard it was just to get my mother to go to a single A.A. meeting--just once. After many years my mother had to eventually hit rock bottom and only then she began a recovery that was never fully completed.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By D. Recio, SJ on June 5, 2006
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Sister Helen (2002) won critical attention at Sundance for its fiery title protagonist, Sister Helen Travis, a sixty-nine year old Benedictine nun, who runs a transitional home for men seeking to stay clean and sober. Rebecca Camissa and Rob Fruchtman's documentary manages to capture in considerable detail the difficulties of running a facility for men who battle their demons.

What makes this documentary exceptional is that the founder, Sister Helen, has her own past with which she has to contend making her more than a `savior', but a fellow traveler who understands the trials the men face. Having lost her husband and two sons to the atrocities of drugs, alcohol, and in one case, murder, we can sympathize with Sister Helen's passion to assist others.

Her no-nonsense style will provoke viewers who believe that members of religious orders should avoid profanity, speak prettily, and invoke God in a particular pious way. Sister Helen reflects the world from which she came: hard-bitten, tough, and demanding. Her tough-love approach guides the men who would have her believe the various lies they tell from time to time but she remains committed to them no matter how often they falter.

Individuals who prefer their religious types similar to the folks in Sister Act and The Sound of Music would do well to avoid Sister Helen.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Been There on December 27, 2010
Format: DVD
Sister Helen was exactly as she was portrayed: a tough minded, street smart woman who had been around the block a few times and back. At age 56 she joined the Benedictine order after losing her alcoholic husband to a heart attack, one son to a heroine overdose and the other to a stabbing. An acolholic herself, she decided to become sober and grab a second chance. She wanted to help others the way she wished she had helped her sons.

Sister Helen looked after twenty something men at Travis House, which she ran with an iron fist. These men were not only addicts but some had also committed serious offenses. Sister Helen's language was salty, but she knew it was language they understood, because she had been there herself. And she desperately wanted them to understand that this was their chance. So no conning, no blaming, no excuses were allowed. Obey the rules or you are out.

And the rules were pretty simple. Stay clean, pay rent, help out, no women in the house and maintain curfew. If you couldn't ( or wouldn't ) follow the rules, then you were back on the streets and someone else who wanted a chance took your place.

It was pretty clear that many of the men had a love/hate relationship with this abrasive woman much as a teen might have with a parent who has laid down the law. Tough love isn't always appreciated until much later when you can view your life in perspective. But many of the men stayed and worked on their sobreity because deep down, they knew this may be their last chance.

At age 56, Sister Helen brought who she was to the ministry, the sum total of her life's experiences. She didn't suddenly transform into a meek and pious woman because she put on a veil.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Addictions Counselor 2 on November 14, 2004
Format: DVD
This film is an excellent representation of people struggling to recover, with some actually recovering and other's whose attempts are fall short. Although Sister Helen is unconventional and seemingly tough, her style is effective and she truly cares about the clients living in her halfway house.
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