The festival’s last day began with Blood Brother, Steve Hoover’s documentary about his lifelong best friend Robin “Rocky” Braat, who sold all his possessions and moved to India in pursuit of “authenticity.” When he said that, I could feel my eyes rolling back in my head, and then again when he started going on about how all the buildings in Chennai were painted in such enticing colors. He goes to work in a hostel for children with HIV, and it’s no surprise when the suffering and death in that place are more than he’s prepared for. What is surprising is that he sticks it out over the next three years and makes his home there. Hoover draws a nice portrait of his buddy as coming from a broken, abusive home in Cleveland (though they both grew up in Pittsburgh) and feeling driven to minister to kids who are ostracized because of their illness. I wish, though, that he had asked a few sharper questions of his friend. I mean, did Rocky really think that working in this place was going to be all sunshine and children’s laughter? And Hoover could have cast a colder eye on the backwardness and dysfunction in India, especially since the hostel is a place where one can see these things so clearly. I do like Hoover’s efforts to avoid casting his friend as the heroic white guy coming in to save all these dark-skinned kids. Still, I could have done with a more hard-headed movie.
As for Mandela: The Long Walk Home, you’re putting a target on your movie’s back when you put the word “long” in the title of a 152-minute film. Justin Chadwick’s biopic of the South African leader does nothing to shake that off, either, because it’s a deeply boring historical pageant depicting its subject as a secular saint. Mandela may be as close to that as we have, but that tends to be hell on drama. No wonder Idris Elba can’t seem to find a way into this role.
So we’re done with the seventh Lone Star Film Festival. This year, I didn’t have that “what a great film!” feeling that I’ve had so often here (Silver Linings Playbook, Shame, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia). Yet if there weren’t any home runs this year, there were still an awful lot of triples, and Tim’s Vermeer will certainly be one of the year’s best documentaries when this is all over. That’s probably why I found 2013’s festival to be so satisfying. Can’t wait to see what they have in store next year.