Sister Helen


Top 20% of all time (see others with this rank)

Festival Year

2002 (click here to see all competition films from this year)


Documentary Competition

Non-Cast Credits

Rob Fruchtman, Rebecca Cammisa, Peter Pearce, Scott Sinkler, Andrew Holbrooke, Alex Aurichio, Jonathan Oppenheim, Juliet Weber, Simon Gentry


Sister Helen is not your average nun. In fact, there is nothing average about this story. After the death of her husband and two sons, Helen got herself sober and joined the Benedictine order of nuns. Though in her late sixties, she opened a private home for recovering addicts and alcoholics in the South Bronx, where she lives along with 21 men. To live there, they must obey her rules, including on-demand urine samples, adhere to strict curfews, participate in community service, and attend house meetings at her discretion. No ifs, ands, or buts. Call it tough love. The men respect and fear her, for she is one tough lady.

The film's fly-on-the-wall technique succeeds in capturing the day-to-day existence of Sister Helen and various residents of the home. They range from Indian-born Ashish, who has has multiple alcohol relapses and has run out of last chances, to another man, who lost everything he had to his crack addition and is slowly trying to rebuild his white-collar life. We see Sister Helen interviewing potential residents with her acerbic tone and the "my-way-or-the-highway" mantra she adopted as a diehard Sinatra fan. Her health is not good, and she often lies awake worrying about those who are losing the fight against using.

In this emotionally compelling film, directors Rob Fruchtman and Rebecca Cammisa invite the viewer into a world which otherwise might be forgotten. Once we've come inside, Sister Helen will come to resonate long after the film has ended.


Lisa Viola (see other films reviewed by the same reviewer)

Film Takes Pace.