Blood Brother

Blood Brother


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Steve Hoover's debut documentary - which won both the jury prize and audience award at Sundance Film Festival - is an affecting, unusual and intensely personal film, although it works more effectively on an emotional level than a fact-disseminating one.

The blood brother of the title is Rocky Braat, the childhood best pal of the director. Braat - bearing the emotional scars of a troubled childhood - headed off "seeking authenticity" in India and ended up with perhaps more than even he bargained for. In the southern state of Tamil Nadu he came across an orphanage/care centre for women and children with HIV and AIDS. After spending some time there, he continued his travels but found that he couldn't shake the children from his head. As a result, he went back until the expiration of his visa forced him back to the US. This is more or less where Hoover brings us in to the film, deciding to accompany Braat back on his return visit to India to see what all the fuss is about and to document his work there.

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The filmmaker's perspective is, perhaps inevitably, skewed towards his long-time pal - a fact underlined in his introduction to the film at Sundance when he stipulated his intention was to "tell as many people as possible about my best friend". The unfortunate consequence of this is that the children and their plight feels pushed to the margins in order to bring Braat's experience of them - rather than their own personal stories - to the fore. This is not in any way to detract from Braat's clear commitment and love of the children. He is a man who has found a mission and is dedicating himself to it for all the right reasons.

But while Braat's personal story keeps Hoover's film accessible on an emotional level, it raises more questions than it answers. Who funds the orphanage? How do the children get their medication there? Who else is taking care of the kids? What are the lives of those in the neighbouring village really like? There are glimpses and hints of superstition but because everything is seen from the perspective of Braat, there's a frustrating lack of context. It's one thing to take beautiful shots of the Indian sunset but not enough is done to step beyond the brochure facade until late in the film when, in a heart-rending sequence, we see youngster Surya wracked by the complications of his illness as Rocky does everything he can to keep him alive. Commendable though it is to show the agony as it happens, there's still a sense that we're supposed to be charting Braat's reactions rather than Surya's. For all its emotional power, I can't help feeling Hoover has come at this from the wrong angle.

Reviewed on: 08 Feb 2013
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Story of a man's commitment to an orphanage for children with AIDS and HIV.

Director: Steve Hoover

Year: 2013

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: US

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