Brother's Keeper (film)

Brother's Keeper (film)

Infobox Film
name = Brother's Keeper
imdb_id = 0103888
director = Joe Berlinger
Bruce Sinofsky
starring = Delbert Ward, Lyman Ward, Roscoe Ward, Bill Ward
released = January, 1992
runtime = 104 min.
music = Molly Mason, Jay Ungar
language = English
genre = Documentary
studio = Wellspring Media Inc.
rating = Not Rated

Brother's Keeper is a 1992 documentary directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. The film is about an alleged 1990 murder in the village of Munnsville, New York.

The Ward brothers

In a rural farming community near Syracuse, New York, four brothers lived in a dilapidated house (some might have called it a shack). William, Adelbert (known as Delbert), Lyman, and Roscoe Ward were barely literate, had no formal education, and farmed land that had been in their family for generations.

William's death

William Ward, who had been ill for years, was found dead one morning. Delbert was accused of killing him, perhaps by smothering. Later, accusations surface that there might have been incestuous homosexual undertones to the alleged murder. Delbert Ward was acquitted at trial, largely because the New York State Police violated Delbert's rights by coercing a confession (which he later retracted) and by having him sign a written statement which he was unable to understand due to his illiteracy.

Analysis of the film

The film contrasts two groups of society; farmers and the big city urbanites. The story, which became national news, appealed to people who viewed the Ward brothers and their town as a fascinating oddity. The city "folk" in the film treat and speak to the villagers, and in particular the Wards, in a condescending manner.

This movie displays two completely opposite views of the Ward brothers. One opinion is that of the locals who find the Ward brothers to be humble old country folk. The other is that of the press, who stereotype the brothers as uneducated hicks. Through these varying opinions you find yourself caring about the Ward brothers and hoping that the verdict is not guilty.

The film shows how the media flocked to the town to cover the story.

The moving documentary depicts the brothers as gentle, shy, harmless, toothless, uneducated, and undeniably likable "rural folk," with Delbert as the victim of investigative overzealousness and perhaps even corruption (maybe arising from an effort to get the Wards' land) in the State Police. One of Delbert's friends even mentions how Delbert looks like Jesus Christ. The community comes to embrace the Wards brothers, for they are part of their town. The viewer is left with the impression that Delbert did not murder his brother even out of mercy. Repeatedly, the people of Munnsville say that Delbert is incapable of murder. Delbert even puts his hand over a friend's mouth, and his friend just laughs as Delbert is unable to suffocate him at all. The most disturbing scene of the movie consisting of the killing and butchering of pig illustrates how the brothers have to hire someone to kill their own animals because they can't bring themselves to do it.

Although the movie is about the trial of Delbert, it also represents the fight of a community to survive. Because the town is sitting on prime suburb property the town is slowly being sold off to developers. However because the murder trial finally gave the town a place in national media the townspeople are taking advantage of their newfound voice and are defending themselves through the brothers. The more they defend Delbert's innocence the more they show the nearby developers that they are going to be able to defend their property.

The brothers themselves are very interesting people, all having varying personality traits. Lyman comes across as being very nervous, due to his timid character and often unnerved appearance. Having few teeth and a broad accent, Roscoe is difficult to understand but demonstrates a friendly demeanour, naming two of his pet birds after film makers Berlinger and Sinofsky. Finally Delbert is often reserved in character, shook by the events both preceding and during the film, yet does show moments of warm-heartedness and friendly openess.

The Ward sister was not featured in this film because of her untimely death in the 1980s. However, her daughter Pat makes an appearance in the D.V.D.'s special features.

The film grossed $1,305,915 (USA) (sub-total).


Delbert passed away at Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown on August 6, 1998. The cause of death was unknown. [ [ Adelbert Ward obituary] ]

Roscoe died June 23, 2007. [ [ Roscoe Ward dies (includes documentary trailer)] ] [ [ 'The Ward Boys' are now just one after Roscoe's death] ]

Lyman died in Utica on 15 August, 2007. [ [ Lyman Ward, 85, Last of 4 Brothers, Dies] ] [ [ Lyman Ward obituary] ]

Film title

The title "Brother's Keeper" comes from the Book of Genesis in the Bible. When God asks Cain where his brother Abel is, Cain replies, "I know not; am I my brother's keeper?" It is unknown what obvious connections can be made between Cain who killed his brother and Delbert who was charged with the same crime, but acquitted. Cain knew he killed his brother and did it for his own self gain. However, the verse also applies to the town of Munsville as symbolic brothers. When their brother Delbert needs help they gather around him and lend support because they have a responsibility to their brother.

Watch the trailer [ here]


The dialogue in this documentary was unique. Instead of watching the actors, the point of interest was turned to how the "boys" talked and trying to understand them. An example of this is when the Ward brothers are interviewed in their shack and instead of listening to what they are saying, the viewers attention is focused on how they talk and their filthy surroundings.


*Directors Guild of America, USA: DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary/Actuality
*Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards: KCFCC Award for Best Documentary
*National Board of Review, USA: NBR Award for Best Documentary
*New York Film Critics Circle Awards: NYFCC Award for Best Documentary
*Sundance Film Festival: Audience Award for Documentary


*Sundance Film Festival: Grand Jury Prize for Documentary


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