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Sister Helen [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

Paul La Greca , Rebecca Cammisa , Rob Fruchtman    DVD

Price: £11.01
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Region 1 encoding (requires a North American or multi-region DVD player and NTSC compatible TV. More about DVD formats.)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fine documentary--even if it can be controversial 5 April 2008
By Matthew G. Sherwin - Published on
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.

In this film, look for Helen to essentially give tons of tough love to the men in her home in the South Bronx neighborhood of New York City. These men have tried so many times and often failed to stay clean of drugs. What was Helen to do? As you will see in this film, Sister Helen possesses an uncanny ability to see through the lies they tell her when in fact they have abused drugs behind her back. She wisely calls for "emergency meetings" when one member may have to be kicked out--for the fifth time.

Upon close examination, however, you'll see the love she does have for these men. She actually gives a fifth chance to the man who suffers from alcoholism; and she actually tells the men in another group meeting that she loves them dearly. She even goes completely off the deep end with her own grief and anger when a false positive drug report comes back that Major, one of her favorite residents, abused a drug. As it turns out, he was taking a prescription drug containing codeine which caused a false positive for opiate use. Sister Helen really should have publicly apologized to the man named Major; but she's human too and I guess she either couldn't muster it or she apologized privately when the cameras weren't rolling.

There are extras that are equally interesting. Look for some extra interviews with several residents of the home; and there is some great commentary for you to choose if you wish.

Overall, not everyone will like this documentary. If you are easily offended by four letter words, you should skip this one. If you can handle or even prefer to see tough love then you will enjoy this film. The last twenty minutes of the film are almost unexpectedly moving; and if you watch this documentary it will make a lasting impression on you.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well crafted documentary 6 Jun 2006
By D. Recio, SJ - Published on
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Documentary 27 Dec 2010
By Been There - Published on
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. She understood the language and psychology of the addict because she had been one, so she was able to connect with them. You can't con a con artist, as is said, and all addicts, at some point, are that. Including Sister Helen.
God's work is done in many ways using many methods. It's not a cookie cutter experience and shouldn't be. Giving a life back in Travis House is no less valuable because the approach doesn't fit our sensibilities of how a " proper nun" should act.

Fortunately, Sister Helen understood that.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars heartfelt and honest 14 Nov 2004
By Addictions Counselor 2 - Published on
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars recovery comes from those who care 11 Mar 2007
By lupe,lou. 1972 - Published on
I thought SISTER HELEN was the "Mother Theresa" of down and out addict, alcoholics, with the best example of " Tough Love " I've ever had the pleasure to witness. Yes, she was rough and raw, but her belief that "the parties over" said it all. Maybe A.A. is a softer gentler way, but Sister Helen provided sick unfortunates a place to stay and one on one guidance. You won't get that at any A.A. fellowship. See this story, you won't regret you did!! Anonymously Yours Louie G.
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