by Michael Nordine
Good causes don’t always translate into good movies, and documentaries about inspiring subjects are especially prone to resting on their laurels and letting the material do all the heavy lifting. “Blood Brother” is as ripe for this easy treatment as can be: Steve Hoover’s documentary focuses on an orphanage for children with AIDS in India and, more directly, the journey of Hoover’s longtime friend Robin “Rocky” Braat as a volunteer there. Nearly every portrait of a lost soul finding meaning in India purports to humanize its foreign setting and characters but ends up exoticizing them instead; “Blood Brother” isn’t entirely an exception, but it refreshingly foregoes most of the tropes that make similar projects’ emotional arcs feel dishonest and unearned.
The film doesn’t officially open until October 25th at the Laemmle Royal in Santa Monica, but it screens next Monday, the 14th at AMC Rolling Hills in Torrance courtesy of the South Bay Film Society. The SBFS is the brainchild of Randy Berler, who started the project in June of last year after growing weary of driving to West Los Angeles whenever he wanted to see a foreign or art-house film. The project has been a success — Berler sets up one or two screenings per month at the AMC, most of which sell out two screens — and “Blood Brother” is unique in that it’s the first SBFS event to precede a movie’s theatrical release. There’s also the fact that 100 percent of the SBFS, AMC, and filmmakers’ profits are going to the orphanage, with TUGG (the distributor) keeping a portion of its share to further promote the movie
More than just an uncomplicated hagiography, “Blood Brother” explores the ways in which Rocky feels closer to his “family” at the orphanage than he does to his actual blood relatives and leaves little doubt that his original trek halfway across the world was driven by an unsatisfying home life. Rocky speaks frankly about every aspect of his new life, including reconciling his initial fear of being infected with HIV and wanting to help the children. He speaks less frequently of his family back home, and it doesn’t take long to see where his heart now lies.
All of this lends itself well to cloying sentimentality — and Hoover can’t help but occasionally indulge in an artificially uplifting musical montage — but for the most part the first-time feature filmmaker keeps things remarkably even-handed, especially given the fact that one child died during filming and another came as close as possible without actually succumbing to his illness. The latter episode is by far the most affecting (and difficult to watch) sequence, and puts to rest any reading of “Blood Brother” as merely feel-good fluff. Every aspect of Rocky’s personality, from his genuine devotion to the fact on some level this is unquestionably compulsive behavior, is brought into relief here; despite being one of few scenes in which he isn’t the main focus, it ends up saying the most about him.
Monday Oct. 14, 7:30 p.m. at the AMC Rolling Hills 20, 2591 Airport Dr, Torrance. For tickets and more information, visit www.southbayfilmsociety.com.