Two Brothers
A Slice of Two Lives

Right off the bat—I am hopelessly biased when it comes to Two Brothers and the 5000 Days Project.  Why?  Let me count the ways:

  • Rick Stevenson, the director and producer of the film, is one of my web clients.
  • One of the projects I did for Stevenson was assembling a pilot automated video diary for desktop systems, used during the 2010/2011 academic year in the Shoreline School District in North Seattle.  This was used for the 5000 Days Project.
  • I’m in the process right now of putting together the introductory 5000 Days website.
  • I am a curator for Official Best of Fest, another of Stevenson’s projects, and even wrote scripts for OBOF’s review “widgets” early in 2010.
  • When I first met with Stevenson for discussions that let to the OBOF widgets, it was very clear that he, as a filmmaker, and I, as I critic, share copasetic visions of what film can and should be: uplifting, constructive, and fiscally responsible.

So when it comes to talking about the 5000 Days Project—an attempt to use documentary fimmaking technique, a la Michael Apted’s Seven Up series (except on a grand scale) to bring kids through the difficulties of adolescence, far better equipped for the challenges of adulthood than they would be otherwise—I’m really part of the team, and I’ve bought in.  Totally.

Rick Stevenson, director of Two Brothers

The key notion involved is that a life examined has far more potential than the usual quiet desperation. For the last ten years, Stevenson has followed a fairly large cadre of kids many of whom are now young adults.  Two Brothers is the first feature-length documentary fashioned from the footage gathered over that period. 

Sam and Luke Nelson are part of the Shoreline community in which Stevenson lives.  Ten years ago, they were pretty typical gradeschoolers.  Luke was the scrappy little brother, Sam the older—who tended to bully his siblings.  Sam and Luke could not be said to be friends, even though they were brothers.

Then Stevenson stepped in and started asking his list of standard questions—What do you see yourself doing twenty years from now? Where do you rank in the list of the 100 most happy people you know? If you could be boss of the world, what would you change? among dozens of others—plus probing inquiries regarding the relationship between the brothers.  And a funny thing started to happen.  As Sam and Luke both started seeing the contrast between the way things were and the way they wished things could be, their reality started changing.  By the time Sam graduated from Shoreline High and departed for his Mormon mission in Chile and Luke started dreaming of a spot on the BYU football team roster, it’s safe to say that their relationship had been transformed in ways neither of them could have imagined.  And Stevenson’s cameras were right there all along the way, capturing this remarkable and moving journey.  (It helps that Sam finds himself in a little natural drama that couldn’t have possibly been scripted.)

Now BYU TV has partnered with Stevenson and his initial 5000 Days patrons to bring the public into the inner sanctum of what the 5000 Days Project is—and what it can accomplish.  Two Brothers is not only now available on DVD and digital download, it will also be airing this Sunday on BYU TV (and streaming online during the telecast) while it makes its official debut at the annual LDS General Confernce in Salt Lake City.

If you can catch it on TV (or online) Sunday, you won’t regret having spent an hour and half with Sam and Luke—and Stevenson, who, it should be noted, is not a Mormon. You’ll want to see more, I’m almost sure. This is not a film about religion—it’s a film about humanity.

If you can’t catch it this Sunday, visit the 5000 Days website to purchase the DVD, a download, or a three-day license to stream the film.

As documentaries go, some of the footage in the film is rougher than Stevenson no doubt would have liked, with lighting and audio less than optimal.  But Sam and Luke’s story is also so unique that you wouldn’t want to miss some of those choppy scenes—especially since we’re getting more used to that style anyway, thanks to “found footage” feature films like Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity.

The bottom line: this is fine, important filmmaking, and I can’t emphasize enough how life-changing the 5000 Days Project has already been—and hopes to be for many, many other children.  It deserves your support.  Seriously.

Two Brothers is unrated.  I’d recommend a PG rating simply because this is a film that parents and their kids should share and talk about together.

Courtesy of the filmmaker, Greg screened the master cut of Two Brothers: The 5000 Days Project.