Rocky Braat, Steve Hoover
Phinehas Hodge, Steve Hoover, Tyson VanSkiver
Tugg (Theatrical), Cinedigm (DVD), PBS
"Blood Brother" Plays at Heartland Film Festival
Winner of the Audience Award for Documentary Feature at the 2013 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, Steve Hoover's Blood Brother is a much better film once you realize that despite its setting it is not, at its very core, actually about the children with HIV who live in the orphanage that is at the center of the film. While all the profits from the film do go to the orphanage and other HIV/AIDS initiatives, the simple truth is that Blood Brother is best viewed through the lens of being about one man's journey from an unstable upbringing in the United States to a life of meaning and purpose in India.
That man, Rocky Braat, traveled to India searching for authenticity and found it in the most unlikely of places. While an orphanage wasn't in his original plans, it seeemed that he was drawn to it and, on some level, the orphanage was drawn to him. While others came and went, he simply always stayed. After his initial visa expired, Rocky returned to the U.S. but was already planning his return. On the return trip, Hoover joined him and began capturing this "authenticity" that had become so deeply woven into his existence.
Even if you tend to approach these types of feel good, inspirational films with a healthy dose of cynicism, it's hard not to be deeply moved by the lives that are shared within Blood Brother. While it is not a flawless film, it's a deeply inspirational one and one that unabashedly does tug at the heartstrings again and again and again. On a certain level, it's deceptive to call the film a "feel good" film. There are certainly moments of heartbreak, sadness and downright tragedy contained within the film, though this should be expected given its setting among children living with HIV/AIDS.
The real victory of Blood Brother, however, is that it doesn't feel like a sad film as much as it feels like a film that lives and breathes honest life experiences. Joy and sadness are woven together and, on a very definite level, these orphans become irrevocably woven into Rocky's life as he is into theirs.
It's truly no wonder that the film captured the hearts of Heartland Film Festival audiences, because it's a film that truly does celebrate the power of the human spirit. Blood Brother won a Humanitas Award from the International Documentary Association, while also receiving prizes at Atlanta Film Festival, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, Kansas International Film festival, Hot Docs in Canada, St. Louis International Film Festival, Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival and, perhaps most notably, the film picked up the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance in 2013.
For more information on Blood Brother, be sure to visit the film's website and, trust me, you'll want to check it out once it arrives on home video with Cinedigm.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic