Updated: Mar 3
Four years after Jordan's death, Justin set out on an 8-year journey to bring his brother's story to life. With the help of 102 interviews and 300+ home videotapes, equalling 450+ hours of footage, "My Brother Jordan" chronicles Jordan's life and death and paints the bond of brotherhood between Jordan and Justin Robinson.
The first thing to address regarding our discussion of this film on this platform is whether or not it technically qualifies as a ‘short film’. At a running time of 1 hour and 3 minutes, it falls into that grey area of not quite feature but not quite short. Here’s the thing. We don’t care. This film, and more importantly, its subject Jordan Robinson deserve every ounce of attention, critical examination, praise and highlighting that we intend to give. More importantly still, the film and most importantly of all, the man, deserve to be remembered.
While we alluded to the duration of the film, it is worth noting that Justin Robinson is an incredibly economical storyteller. He knows how to touch on the key points and not overstuff his films with unnecessary plot and dialogue. This is demonstrated by the opening ten minutes, which include a statement of intent, overview of who Jordan was to the people who knew and loved him and multiple biographies that provide the context in which the story will be told. These areas are covered quickly, but never rushed. It also establishes a shifting tone, letting us know that the film will be emotional, but that means all emotions. While it pulls no punches with its painful moments, it is also unafraid to be outright hilarious (the Wes Anderson reference at the 14-minute mark is comedy gold).
What cannot be overstated, is the astonishing accomplishment in not only assembling a narrative through line from an insane amount of family videos and pictures accompanied by interviews from teachers, coaches, friends, family and more, but doing so in such a way that ramps up or slows down the pace in just the right moments and clearly defines the chapters of the story. At no point are you lost in a flurry of events or anecdotes. Robinson as writer, narrator, editor and director knows exactly how to keep the story on track.
The film as a whole becomes more than a summary or snapshot of an amazing person’s life. Every person in the film becomes real to the viewer (not just due to the film being a documentary). Their laughter is real. Their precious memories are real. Their pain is real. Their love is real. This film is a devastatingly love-filled experience for many reasons, not least of which being that we are also watching Justin’s journey. He displays titanic levels of bravery and honesty in sharing the depths of his torment, the unbreakable bond that he shared with his brother, losing and finding his way and his frankness about the fact that the process of grief never really ends. Impressively (or heartbreakingly) he is able to take all of these concepts and realisations and distil them into distinct and powerful visual moments.
Any filmmaker (or any person) could be forgiven for simply pouring every memory, picture or video into a stream of consciousness in tribute to a lost loved one. Robinson, however, along with some beautiful imagery from a team of fantastic cinematographers (keep an eye out for Justin playing basketball in the rain), gives us a masterclass in documentary narrative.
There are some telling visual styles reminiscent of other examples of Robinson’s work, that suggests that this film, in some ways, is Justin’s origin story as a filmmaker. The emotional intuitiveness that allows Robinson to tell stories of such deep loss in Snowbirds or Grape Soda, or encapsulate the essence of a person’s character, sometimes in a single shot in films like Guest of Honor, is on full display throughout My Brother Jordan.
Ultimately, we are left not only reeling from the loss of someone who clearly meant so much to so many, but almost cheated that we did not get to know him ourselves. But we are also left with an unshakable sense of an enduring legacy, one that demands that happiness, love and laughter lives alongside the crippling pain and loss that those left behind are forced to endure.
This is not a universal roadmap through grief or a self-referential insight into one person’s suffering. It is the art of film, born of pain but driven by love, doing what film does best; sharing human experiences (happy, sad and sometimes both at the same time) and helping us to understand that while love is a big part of the reason that grief never fully goes away, it is also what helps us get back up and find value, purpose and beauty as we walk often painful roads.
Through some of the best documentary filmmaking you are likely to see in either short or feature film, Justin Robinson’s My Brother Jordan ends up sharing many of the qualities of Jordan himself; tough, brave, generous, beautiful and unforgettable.
Studio: Justin Robinson | Year: 2020 | Genre: Documentary | Duration: 63 Mins | Suitability: Mature
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