On Saturday, I had the chance to see the film Blood Brothers being screened as a part of the Three Rivers Film Festival. The theater was packed and after the film, the director did a Q/A session. The documentary chronicles the the life of Rocky, an American who seeking a purpose in life, ends up caring for Children with AIDS in a rural hostel. My partner had heard an interview with the director and based on it, wanted to see the film by this Pittsburgh-based artist.

Here in the US, many still equate AIDS with the gay community even though the two are not the same. Indeed, AIDS never was a gay disease, it just showed up in the gay community first. In other areas of the world, AIDS was spread predominately by straight sex and other modes of transmission. In Blood Brothers, AIDS is never talked about as this amorphous disease, rather we see it and get to know it as this horrific affliction affecting real people- these Indian children. The next time I hear any far right crazy person talk about AIDS as a gay disease, I will want to force them to watch this film.

But Blood Brothers isn’t really about AIDS, even if it takes up a big part of the film. Rather, it is a film about one man and the lengths he goes to to be who he needs to be in the world. One of the most poignant moments in the film revolves around the death of a young girl who has what would probably be a treatable infection, but much of the village is rigidly looking to prayer and the gods to heal the girl. We watch two worlds collide, and underneath it all, is Rocky’s unending love and compassion.

The director talked in the Q/A about how serendipitous the film was to make. While he had planned to make a film, the timing was shifted, and it just happened that all of these things which created such a moving film happened when they did. I partially buy this. I think it is also true to say that the situation of Rocky’s life is such that amazing stories are probably a part of every day, and when viewed after, by those who have the courage to be present enough to see, are so powerful. And I wonder if the bigger story is that each and everyone of us can have a life filled with amazing stories when we break out of the monotony ( or mediocrity) of our status quo lives. We don’t all have to be Rocky, but if we can at least be more like the director and be open to what is out there for us to see, we will be amazed.

I saw the film with two others, and afterwards, as we enjoyed frozen yogurt at Razzie Fresh, one asked if perhaps the suffering and the people were exploited a little. Can exploitation be done on a scale of a little to a lot? While I understood this person’s thoughts, I don’t think I agree. He was talking specifically about a moment where the father whose daughter had died has come to Rocky’s and is looking at pictures of the daughter on his laptop. I think so often, we envision such poverty and suffering as if the individuals in it, have nothing else, yet they do. This life was so precious to the father, and the depth of the loss severe, in a way that anyone in any culture can relate and understand.

For me, the most dramatic filming is of a young boy with AIDS who lives only by a miracle. In the film’s narration is this snip about it, where Rocky says that God saved the boy’s life, but the narrator and the doctors and the nurses say that Rocky saved the boy’s life. For me, this really sums up the film in a nutshell. The filming of the boy at the worst of the episode is extremely hard to watch yet critical to the film because without it, we fail to grasp just how far reaching and unwavering, Rocky’s love and commitment to these kids really is.

I have known, hundreds of guys who have lived, and many who have died of AIDS. Not a few dozens, but hundreds, and I have never seen anyone so ravaged by the illness as this boy. I was humbled to realize that even as much as I thought I had really be present in many friends lives, I have never known the depth of suffering this disease can cause, nor have I seen many rise to the level of compassion like Rocky.

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