Sweeping up the documentary awards at the American Sundance, Blood Brother is director Steve Hooper’s tale of his best friends journey to India that quickly became more than the gap-year soul searching experience he intended.
Rocky Braat’s move from Pittsburgh was born out of that nagging existential crisis that at times can plague us all. Desperate to fill the void in his life and aware of the possibilities that lay past the barriers of routine American life, he ditched his career as a graphic designer, booked his ticket and embarked on the road well travelled to the world’s spiritual Mecca. What followed was a life-changing experience not often shared by those passing through to grab a slice of ‘finding themselves’ before strapping on their backpack and covering themselves in neon paint to puke their new found selves’ guts out on a beach in Thailand.
The change was as whimsical as it was dramatic. At a loose end, Rocky agreed to take in a local centre for children suffering with HIV expecting to feel sad for an allotted amount of time before departing for an adventure elsewhere around the country. His usual ambivalence to children was instantly shattered by what he saw, children who not only had nothing but also suffered from this most deadly of diseases yet wore the smiles of stage children, brimming with constant enthusiasm and unabashed happiness.
Knowing then where his future lay, he cancelled the rest of his trip to stay with the children and when his visa ran out returned to the US only to sell all of his possessions and raise funds for a return trip. Quickly becoming known as Rocky Anna (meaning brother), his affection for these children was the catalyst for friend Hoover to join him overseas and document his experience.
We’ve become slightly numb to these sights, grown cynical of those white faces on Comic Relief, dipping their toe in poverty before fleeing on first-class plane tickets, our British sense of level-headedness and famed stiff upper lip often getting in the way of fully embracing projects like these. However, there’s a lack of pretence with Rocky who seems as sincere and genuine in his mission as anyone can be, making it difficult to throw some of this cynicism his way. Immersing himself completely in village life he’s able to gain the trust of the adults after they witness the rapport and affection he has forged with their children.
Along the way we see the emotional, physical and mental burden faced by Rocky that makes his an even more worthy cause. His warmth and care for the children is that most overused and derided of words – heart-warming which, apparent on screen, only adds to the sadness when one is taken ill or silently passes away in the middle of the night.
It’s often difficult to watch these kinds of films/images without a certain level of scepticism – do-gooder American saves poor third world problem – but in Blood Brother that slowly gets wiped away. Rocky has worn us down, our cynicism faded, stiff upper lip softened and faith in human kindness partially restored. Who would’ve thought it would take an American slacker to do that?