Extra Sundance London 2013: Blood Brother

This extraordinary emotional journey is utterly life-affirming, humbling and inspiring.

In the opening minutes, Blood Brother looks like the typical story of a privileged white American man attempting to experience a bit of culture by helping all the poor folk in India. Wearing a hipster-tight t-shirt, hair perfectly-styled, we see this handsome young man - resembling a young Christian Bale - frantically weaving through traffic on a motorbike, carrying a distraught Indian man cradling an unconscious little girl.

Very soon it becomes apparent that director Steve Hoover's raw documentary is something else, something quite extraordinary. As we see the director and his subject in a state of shock and distress, Hoover begins to explain some background before unveiling an intense, fly-on-the-wall account of one man's unexpected, selfless mission. Hoover, a professional videographer, set out to chart why his best friend Rocky Braat, a man who went to Chennai in India's state Tamil Nadu as a traveller wanting to 'find himself', had spent years in an orphanage for AIDS-afflicted children, ostensibly run by women also infected with HIV.

An intense story of pure love and charity unfolds, and we learn more about what drives Rocky, a young Pittsburgh man with hidden depths - the assumption in the first line of this review could not be further from the truth. What is remarkable about Hoover's film is the positivity, and the way he captures the charming children as individuals, enabling us to see why Rocky became so attached to them. The director paints a vivid picture of Rocky's life and work, warts and all, and any semblance of this being a vanity project on either side is put to rest when one of the children becomes gravely ill. What follows is a searing testament to the power of the human spirit, but it is never mawkish or sentimental, with Rocky's pragmatism and honesty shining through. There's an intriguing side story involving Rocky's courtship with a local woman, which is time to reflect on his role in the community, but things don't get too personal, and Rocky is curiously silent about the cultural differences.

The Kickstarter-funded film isn't hugely polished, using Hoover's beautiful photography, Skype calls and varying qualities of cameras, but Hoover's superb assembly of the footage makes for visceral viewing that packs a punch. Winner of the US Grand Jury Prize (Documentary) and the Audience Award in Sundance Utah, this emotional journey is utterly life-affirming, humbling and inspiring. One very interesting thing to note is that Rocky is a Christian, something only touched upon when Hoover mentions his belief during one traumatic episode, and in the credit thanks. The actions of this one-man missionary, who spends his days tenderly caring for AIDS victims with weeping sores and giving them hope - therefore putting Christ's words into action - is so far removed from the poisonous propaganda spewed by the US missionaries in Sundance's other hit God Loves Uganda, folk whose idea of doing God's work is to incite hate crime. The two films would make for one powerful double bill.

Rating: 8/10

Tags: Extra

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