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Breaking Habits: An energetic documentary on the nuns who grew marijuana

Dope-smoking, anarchist nuns, moustachioed sheriffs, shootouts and gangsters. On the surface, Breaking Habits looks like something from the fevered brain of Quentin Tarantino. Yet Rob Ryan’s exuberant and flashy documentary is, in fact, a true tale – tall though it may seem.

It focuses on the fierce and eccentric Sister Kate, resident of Central Valley, California. She was once known as Christine, a corporate consultant fleeced out of a million bucks by a conniving husband.

From poverty’s despair, she hauled herself and her children out by changing her name and creating a defiantly irreligious sisterhood of marijuana growers – not without the odd gunfight along the way. It is, they say, a “sacred calling”. How very Californian.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

Despite changes in the political weather blowing towards fewer restrictions on pot, teetotallers reign in the valley. Even in the dying days of the War on Drugs, the cops seem to have walked straight off the set of Reefer Madness.

As much as you want to battle in Sister Kate’s corner, the film leaves a few things uninterrogated. Why is her county one of the poorest in the state? Is mass cannabis cultivation really the way to go to provide jobs? And what has been wrought by decades of prohibition and prison for users and growers alike?

Still, Breaking Habits is an energetic, punkish portrait of a truly idiosyncratic woman fighting back.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★1/2

Video: Icon Films Australia & New Zealand

This article was first published in the May 4, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.