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BLOOD BROTHER (2013) review

January 20, 2014

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written by: Phineas Hodges, Steve Hoover and Tyson Hodges

produced by: Danny Yourd

directed by: Steve Hoover

rating: not rated

runtime: 92 min. 

U.S. release date: January 20, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival), June 26, 2013 (New York) and January 20, 2014 (on PBS’ Independent Lens)

 

Exactly a year ago, “Blood Brother” won the Grand Jury Prize in Documentary and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. The documentary is the feature-length film debut from director Steve Hoover from Pittsburgh, focusing on his longtime friend, Rocky Braat, who’s been living in India for several years now, where he helps take care of children with AIDS. The film follows Rocky’s motivations, struggles and victories as he invests himself fully to the lives of those in need and it also offers a powerful look at a strong brotherly bond between two best friends. It turned out to be one of the most emotional and resonating movies I saw last year.

Hoover opens the film with an animated sequence that gives us a glimpse of Rocky’s character, telling a story of compassion from his friend’s past, narrated by Rocky’s grandfather. This stylistic choice effortlessly hooks viewers and soon we’re traveling with Hoover, who’s picking up his friend from an airport in Pittsburgh. Rocky has returned home after living in India for two years and is restless to go back. His friendship with Hoover is still intact, but the two of them have experienced quite a lot since Rocky had left and some of the painful memories from his past have started to creep in.

 

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Rocky shares that he’s found his purpose, which is to care for and serve orphaned children at a shelter who’ve been infected or impacted by AIDS. He had traveled to India not knowing where he’d wind up or what he’d do, and even shares that he didn’t even like kids all that much. But these exuberant children, who longed for a big brother or a father figure, won him over.

Rocky anticipates going back, this time accompanied by Hoover, who will document on film Rocky’s life there. Hoover covers everything about Rocky’s life there. There’s footage of silly games Rocky plays with the kids along with the songs and the dancing, all evidence of a natural synchronicity. Hoover invites us along with, from visiting hospitalized children to taking severely sick children on his motorbike to get the medical treatment they desperately need. Hoover also shares his own fears of being around AIDS-stricken children, of touching them or being near them. Fears that were squashed the more he watched his dear friend care for these children.

These scenes run the emotional gamut – from joy to sorrow – as death inevitably comes to the community of children Rocky has become a part of. When one particular young boy, Surya, takes an extreme turn for the worse, Hoover captures heart-wrenching footage of Rocky changing the bandages which cover the boy’s open blisters and clearing the boys scabbed over eyes. He doesn’t leave the boy’s side. His background isn’t in medicine (he studied graphic art back in the States), but for four months, Rocky spent as much time as possible at the boy’s side, even while planning his wedding to a young Indian woman.

 

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Hoover captures that wedding with a relaxed stylish flare that is present throughout the entire film. While some documentary directors have a tendency of getting in the way of their subject the more they make their presence known, in “Blood Brother” Hoover is  just as essential a character as is Rocky Braat. He’s not only our gateway to Rocky and his environment (an area of the world that is likely new to most viewers), but he also has an arch as compelling as Rocky.

Rocky narrates “No child ever grows out of their need for family” and goes on to share that after building such a bond, it would be selfish to leave. Everything indicates that this isn’t just some tale of a good-hearted twentysomething American boy taking care of the less fortunate. It may seem cliché to some viewers, but there would be no point in making such a film without a main character that isn’t genuinely sincere and selflessly loving. What possible motive would there be other than to simply focus on someone who has changed his life by finding his calling and, in turn, changed the lives of many?

The film has its heart in the right place. That particular place is one of servitude and sacrifice, something viewers can always be enriched by. It’s a film that certainly resonated with me, having served children in need on a handful of occasions. I may not know Rocky as well as Steve Hoover does, but I can definitely relate to knowing what it’s like to be bitten by the bug that comes when you experience firsthand the rewarding results of meeting someone’s needs.

“Blood Brother” can currently be seen in the States on Independent Lens, a program on PBS. You can also track down where it will be playing in theaters here or catch it once it’s released digitally and on DVD on February 4th.

 

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RATING: ****

 

 

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