It is not often you can say that you enjoyed a film about children with HIV, but Blood Brother may well be that film. Winner of both the Audience Award and the US Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance film festival, Steve Hoover’s documentary manages to shed new light on this well documented global issue, somehow striking the balance between humourous and heart wrenching.
When Pittsburgian Rocky Bratt travels to India to ‘find himself’, his friends and family are bemused. When he returns saying he has found his true home, they are intrigued. His best friend Steve Hoover follows him on his return to India and films things along the way. Rocky has been living in an orphanage in Chennai, where kids with HIV manage to lead a relatively normal life thanks to new ART medication. Rocky has made friends with all the children by being affection with them, eating food from their plates and tending to their wounds without any fear of being infected himself. In return they call him ‘Rocky anna’ or ‘brother Rocky’ and trust him innately.
In the beginning, you wonder whether the children are being exploited in making the film, their suffering put on show like emotional blackmail, but soon it is clear that Bratt is just a regular guy trying to do a good thing. His complete selflessness and devotion to the children’s wellbeing is astounding, and leads you to question how you would act in the same situation.
At points their motives are questionable, making the audience watch a little boy whose lips are falling off try to eat pizza or see a little girl at the very moment she dies. Bratt says ‘you can’t capture the experience on camera’ but they sure try, putting you in the face of the crisis. It’s not whether you will cry, but after how long.
At the crux of the film, Bratt must make a decision between staying in India with the children, or returning to his life in America, where he was always distant from his family. Despite the fact that he knows he’ll have to watch the daily suffering of his friends, it’s not a difficult choice for him.
Blood Brother is an intimate and powerful documentary about the fragility of life and our ability to give. The film is non-profit and was financed entirely from donations, with everyone who worked on the film working for free and giving up their time. With similar distribution support for the cause, the film could easily go on to have a theatrical release.