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Honest and compelling account of children living with HIV

Blood Brother will be playing at 6pm, October 17, and is the first film to be shown at the Bermuda International Film Festival.

The subject of children living with HIV/Aids is an ostensibly complex and depressing topic. Combined with the narrative of a disillusioned westerner travelling to India in search of enlightenment — and finding it in a refuge for abandoned HIV-positive women and children — the film could have been a hard sell to audiences. But despite the inherent bleakness of the subject, Blood Brother presents an immediately compelling and affecting narrative as beautiful and life-affirming as the children it portrays.

Filmed and directed by Steve Hoover over a five-year period, the film follows his best friend, Robin ‘Rocky' Braat, who has found fulfillment in life after a childhood of neglect and abuse. Shot with an array of hand-held cameras in a dynamic environment, whatever is lost in the quality of filmmaking is more than repaid in busy-yet-ebullient editing.

At times Hoover's penchant for montages threatens to overwhelm, but such sequences only end up serving as evidence of the immersion needed to make the film work. With unlimited access to Braat and the children, Hoover weaves a story as honest as it is captivating. The joy of the children, who endearingly call Braat “Rocky anna” — “anna” being a suffix used to denote a “big brother” type — is never contrived and exudes throughout every frame, even those that are the hardest to watch.

Originally, Braat travelled to India “seeking authenticity”, and found it in an AIDS orphanage nearby the city of Chennai, in the southern Tamil Nadu state of India. Rocky leaves the orphanage, but quickly finds the bond he formed with the children pulling him back. After the opening scene — a crisis in the village involving a dying young girl — viewers are brought back three months earlier to Pittsburgh, USA.

Braat has reluctantly returned home after his visa expired. Here, he finds himself unneeded. His friends have moved on and his family life is as complicated as ever. Ultimately Braat makes the decision to sell all his belongings and return to the orphanage indefinitely and, along with Hoover, returns to India with nothing but a suitcase full of toys.

With no job or official position within the orphanage, Braat relies on the donations of friends. Even the proceeds of the film, which has been tagged as having potential for theatrical release, will go towards Braat's work and residency.

On the outskirts of Chennai, Braat chooses to live an impoverished life so as not to separate himself from the children and other villagers. He forgoes a good bed, a western toilet and air-conditioning so he is not looked upon as just another rich white man. Indeed, much of the internal conflict Braat wrestles with is his desire to be more than just a tourist, a white face come to a desolate Indian village to feel better about himself.

Externally, he is faced with the grim reality of caring for and loving children with Aids. “I have chosen a life of suffering,” he says after losing a young girl whose father chose to pray for her instead of taking her to the hospital. With the added complexity of a rather ham-fisted courtship with a local Indian woman, Braat is faced with two distinctly opposite choices: to marry and live in India for the rest of his life, or to leave the orphanage behind, heed the life-lessons it has taught him, and move on.

Blood Brothers: Rocky Braat with two of the children

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Published October 09, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 08, 2013 at 9:41 pm)

Honest and compelling account of children living with HIV

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