Brother's Keeper

Brother's Keeper (1992)

In 1992, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, the documentary team that would go on to make the Paradise Lost trilogy of films, set out to cover the trial of the elderly Delbert Ward, accused of the murder of his brother, best friend and bedmate, Bill Ward, in their first feature length project.

The four Ward brothers live is a filthy, rank farmhouse in rural New York state, managing a mixed smallholding at what appears to be a subsistence level. Known locally as "the Boys", all are of reduced intellect and have various minor social disorders. Upon the late night death of Bill, who had been suffering from a number of ailments, the police take Delbert into custody on suspicion of strangling his brother, and coerce a confession out of him.

Beyond these undisputed facts, the narrative wanders around following the suspicions and rumours in the local community, the supposed motivations of the public prosecutor, with "the Boys" as unreliable as any set of witnesses you can imagine. The well meaning locals take up Delbert's case as a cause célèbre, despite years of community neglect for the family, which Berlinger and Sinofsky explain as a circling of wagons against the forces of the big city in the form of the District Attorney.

This film is grim, ambiguous, and fascinating. Having seen the aforementioned Paradise Lost series of films, I feel that Brother's Keeper better avoids the pitfalls of advocacy documentary making, and therefore is a more satisfying watching experience.

Conversation starters

  • Did Delbert have the mental capacity to stand trial?
  • That's no way to slaughter a pig!
  • Man, that house was filthy!

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