Brother Number One

Brother Number One

(2011)

Kiwi Olympian rower Rob Hamill goes to Cambodia to retrace the events that saw his brother, Kerry, caught, tortured and murdered by the Khmer Rouge in 1978. From award-winning documentarian Annie Goldson (An Island Calling).... More

"In 1978, when future Kiwi Olympian and transatlantic rowing champion Rob Hamill was 14, his older brother Kerry disappeared. Two years later the family learned from a newspaper report that their gentle, joyful number one son had been identified as a victim in a Cambodian death camp. Kerry had been on board his charter yacht Foxy Lady with two other young men when they anchored in Kampuchean waters. Hippie adventurers, they were unaware of the horrors unfolding onshore. Kerry was seized and tortured for two months at the Khmer Rouge slaughterhouse Tuol Sleng (S21). After signing an outlandish confession he was executed on the orders of the infamous Comrade Duch." (NZ International Film Festival 2011)Hide

  • Winner of Best Director for a Documentary, Aotearoa Film & Television Awards 2011.

  • Directed by Annie Goldson

    Starring Rob Hamill

    • Documentary
    • 100mins
    • Rating: M some content may disturb
    • In English and Khmer, with English subtitles
    • New Zealand

Flicks Review

As narrator-protagonist Rob Hamill pointed out before a preview screening of Brother Number One, the vast public majority will know little of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge or Kerry Hamill’s untimely death. Undoubtedly, that ignorance will aid to the overall sense of horrific enlightenment for many who see this raw kiwi documentary.... More

The film essentially tells three stories: the murder of Kerry Hamill in a Cambodian death camp in 1978, the present-day trial of Comrade Duch, one of the pinnacle overseers of death camp S-21, and a rundown of the Khmer Rouge regime that sought the death of millions. Following Rob Hamill, the movie draws a great deal of sympathy through the kiwi Olympian’s struggle for answers without ever making it feel exploitive.

The first half of the film slowly meanders around the three topics, never really drawing a tight focus until the halfway mark. From there, it blazes a concise trail that chars the heart, divulging into the depravity of the regime, Rob’s 30-year frustration over the ambiguity of his brother’s demise and the subdued relief felt when answers begin to surface. A moment involving Kerry’s ‘confession’ hit all the points home.

Some moments of the film seem misplaced (a key aspect into Rob’s childhood is strangely placed near the end) and it could use a tad more insight on the Khmer Rouge. Despite those minor setbacks, Brother Number One draws attention to relatively unknown subject matter with little flash and great poignancy.Hide


The Peoples' Reviews

Average ratings from 4 ratings, 4 reviews
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BY Brian1 superstar

let alone a person from another world, and whilst in another country's waters, not on land, and not with any intent other than travelling.
Unmissable.


This is a beautiful, restrained, funny, tender and just plain excellent piece of documentary storytelling. I cried towards the end - but it was a nice kind of weeping (unlike the time I watched 'The Notebook' which was manipulative crying because the press a tearful button) - this was the kind of weeping that only comes from really cathartically relating the characters more than you expect to do in a documentary. I hope this remains able to be seen by many!


I wasn't sure what I was expecting but it turned out to be an amazing experience. The doco is poetic, sad, funny, heartbreaking and ultimately cathartic. A must watch if you want to understand a slice of history through a very human story.


BY Cleo nobody

For a heart-wrenching but strangely optimistic experience, go to this film. It is superbly made, and almost faultless, a compelling story that informs while it engages. The story of Kerry Hamill, the young hippie sailor off on his OE with his mates, who sails into the clutches of the Khmer Rouge forms one journey, while the contemporary tale of Kerry's youngest brother Rob ("the rower") traveling to Cambodia exactly 31 years since Kerry's torture and murder, another. Still another is that of... More Cambodia, a beautiful country pulled into the vortex of the Vietnam War period.

Annie Goldson interweaves these three stories into a seamless whole that is both shocking but uplifting - it helps us understand. The personal story of the Hamill family - good-looking, outdoorsy, small town - becomes a nutshell of a whole country. If this is what they went through, imagine what it must have been like for Cambodia? As this question is asked, and Rob is gracious and seemingly unbitter enough to ask it, it is answered by the film's incorporation of the stories and voices of those who "naturally" appear in the film, as translators, survivors who may have met Kerry or even perpetrators, some of whom were child soldiers at the time of the genocide.

Rob has a commanding screen presence, a combination of Kiwi blokeish-ness and emotional vulnerability, which I, as a Kiwi woman, find really appealing - and I suspect Kiwi men would too. In appearing in war crimes tribunal which is trying 5 former Khmer Rouge for the murder of 2 million, Rob is on the world stage. Despite his evident strength and endurance (rowing the Atlantic was no small feat I'm sure), you can tell this is a real challenge. As Graeme Tuckett on National Radio too, says "Just go and see it . . it's a film full of empathy and compassion . . . I couldn't admire it more". I agree.Hide


The Press Reviews

  • It moves, it speaks, and at its best, it entrances. You won't see many documentaries better than this, from any country, in any year. Full Review

  • Rob Hamill is a quintessential Kiwi who could easily be your brother, husband, son or best friend, and through this medium not only do the politics become very personal; we also feel a powerful sense of being with him, step by step, on his quest. Highly recommended. Full Review

  • Brother Number One is a necessarily hard watch, but has so much compassion and grace that the audience is not left feeling desolate by the end. Optimistically, one hopes that as people see this film, and appreciate the depths of horror inflicted upon the Cambodian people, we will be mobilised into a better way of being. Full Review

  • It takes what could be an infuriatingly political or just too sentimental subject and turns it into the definite page-turner of documentaries – something that grabs you by the throat and engages you right from the opening seconds. Full Review

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