Sister Helen (review)

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“I would like to smoke crack more than anything in the world right now,” reports one recovering addict here. What keeps him from giving in to that urge? One tough Irish-American broad: Sister Helen Travis, a force of nature you cross at your own peril. Yup, she’s a nun. Family tragedy drove Travis to the Church late in her life, and she set up a South Bronx group home for men addicted to drugs and alcohol run purely on donations and rent from the men who live there so that they can subject themselves to her particularly tough brand of tough love. Documentarians Rob Fruchtman and Rebecca Cammisa give us a powerful tribute to an extraordinary woman who would probably deny there was anything special about herself, and though the film has won tons of festival awards and garnered an Emmy nomination from its run on cable TV, none of these is as strong a recommendation for the film as is the fierce devotion Travis inspires in those she seeks to help, and in her dedication to those society willingly discards. Deleted scenes, additional interviews, and commentary by filmmakers extend the film’s force.

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