Judge Jason Panella considered scrapping it all and moving to a place he was needed, but couldn't find affordable housing in Witchita Falls.
We all need love.
Rocky Braat is a pretty normal guy. He's gregarious, big-hearted, and quick to make a joke. He can also be aimless and self-absorbed, and the fact that Blood Brother is quick to show Rocky as a multifaceted individual who is still maturing helps make it such a worthwhile documentary.
In his attempt to find some sort of meaning to his life, Rocky drops his life in Pittsburgh and heads to Chennai, India. This sort of soul-searching is fairly common, especially for folks having a hard time adjusting to post-college life. Blood Brother, which was filmed by Braat's friend Steve Hoover, picks up Rocky's story after his initial return from India. While he initially went abroad as a tourist, something happened that gave him an overwhelming sense of purpose—he came across a hostel populated with HIV-infected children and felt an immediate bond with these kids. So even before he returns to America, Braat is already planning on how to permanently move to India. He sells all of his belongings and invites Hoover along for the journey.
In some of his sporadic narration, Hoover questions Braat's wisdom in dropping everything and moving to India. Is Rocky trying to play Western saviour to some impoverished kids? Is he setting himself up for more pain down the road? Blood Brother doesn't shy away from scenes of Rocky making poor choices—it seems pretty hard for him to turn off some aspects of his personality, which gets him into trouble. But is pretty clear that there's something deeper going on here; Rocky loves these kids like he would younger siblings. A troubled childhood kept Rocky distant from his family members, and he never really felt at home where he grew up. At the hostel, Rocky feels a sense of place and familial love that he never experienced before. Similarly, the HIV-infected kids—who have been ostracized by their families and communities—have a big brother in Rocky, someone willing to love them unconditionally.
Hoover does a nice job capturing all of this. He spends a lot of time focusing on the kids and their lives, and how Braat has become a part of the hostel's community. Hoover doesn't glamorize the living conditions in the small compound, though he still finds plenty of time to show the children enjoying their lives. I wish the film would have spent just a little more time giving some more context for how the hostel fits into the broader community of Chennai (we're given the impression that things aren't great, but that's it). Blood Brother also feels somewhat choppy in its presentation. Hoover and his small crew filmed the documentary entirely on small handheld cameras, which pays off frequently in the intimacy of some of the scenes. But a few of these same scenes feel like they were lifted off of someone's cell phone. This doesn't take away from the core of the film at all, but it does add an unfortunate layer to some really heart-rending moments.
Blood Brother is a moving film. People seem to think the movie is either about Rocky Braat or the Indian children. In a way, both camps are right, though the movie is about something much more: How love changes people. The children's love changes Rocky into a better person just as Rocky's love helps the children he now sees as family. This focus, in addition to Hoover's willingness to not sugarcoat things, makes Blood Brother a worthwhile watch.
Cinedigm's release of Blood Brother does the trick. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation looks as good as it can, considering how rough some of the footage is. Much of the audio was recorded in subpar conditions, so the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo tracks do an impressive job of clearing things up. The extras: a trailer for the film (2.18) and the photobook I Was Always Beautiful, which features Braat and the children (1:45). There are also around 37 minutes of deleted scenes.
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