Dorothy and Robert DeBolt are saints, pure and simple. After sitting down to watch Who are the DeBolts?, there is no other conclusion to come to.
This Oscar winning documentary from 1977 tells a tale that is rare, touching and in many ways will humble anyone who sits down to watch it. With much of today's focus being away from family values, thanks to the fast paced world that we live in, seeing the life of the DeBolts family is something of an enigma. Many families today have the standard 2.5 kids or less, but not this one. At the time this documentary had been compiled Dorothy and Bob were parents to a whopping nineteen children.
When Bob and Dorothy got together originally, they had a combined total of six children from previous marriages, but that's not what makes this story amazing. Before she met her future husband, Dorothy had adopted four kids on top of the five that she had given birth to. The two also opened up their hearts and their home for special needs kids, who otherwise may not have been given a chance to survive or lead a semi-normal life. Their views and charity expanded well beyond the U.S. borders, and soon they were taking in children from Vietnam, Korea, and Mexico.
What seemed impossible was accomplished by hard work and dedication to teaching the children to be self sufficient. Bob and Dorothy felt it was important to teach the kids American values and their house was essentially a giant melting pot. This is something that by today's standards is probably politically incorrect, but you have to admire the DeBolts for sticking to, and teaching, their belief system. They go out of their way to ensure that the children never feel like they are less than complete, no matter if they are missing limbs or if they are blind. Chores were assigned and misbehaving got you disciplined just like any child, Bob and Dorothy certainly went out of their way to love, teach and guide, but never pander to the children.
The DeBolts are not only known for their incredibly large family, but also for working with other families to help needy children find good homes. The organization known as AASK (Adopt A Special Kids) was key to the DeBolts desires to find homes for children. They helped create the organization and through them eventually spread their way of thinking to other big hearted parents.
John Korty's documentary focuses on a few key elements of their family structure, but since there are so many people to get to know from the household, it only focuses on the parents and a few of the children. Basically we are taken from child to child with clips that feel more like home video footage than documentary material. At times it feels like a poorly assembled collection of video, but there are many moments where we get treated to inspirational glimpses into their daily lives. Otherwise though, much of what is here remains a tad mundane.
In its time, the documentary would have been worthy of an Oscar in my opinion, but by today's standards that's not really the case. Korty does a great job focusing on Bob and Dorothy for much of the documentary, but the rest of what was captured and presented here feels like glorified filler. Yes, the children are inspirational and yes, the DeBolts are amazing people, but from an informative standpoint there isn't a lot of material here. Even so, I was touched by the way of life that Bob and Dorothy crafted for themselves and their children.
This documentary occurred before my time, so I had actually never heard of the DeBolts before sitting down to watch it. I'm very glad I did though, because this truly is one of the more inspirational stories I have seen. The documentary itself may lack real direction and substance, but the core ideals are there for who the DeBolts really are.
Considering that it was all put together back in 1977 Who are the DeBolts? features some pretty poor video quality. There is an abundance of grain, speckle, pixilation, lighting issues, and just about everything else you can think of. This seemingly has entirely to do with the original material though and is not really a product of the DVD transfer. It looks like a well preserved home movie from the 70s, but I can't imagine anyone being able to clean this up any better at this point.
Presented with 2.0 Dolby Digital, the aural aspect of Who are the DeBolts? is relatively on par with the visual. There are many times that the sound will fade out or have a slight hiss to it, but otherwise the product in question is acceptable. It's a documentary about a family, so you can expect a lot of dialogue, some light music, and not much else. No subtitles are present on the disc.
Who are the DeBolts? offers up plenty of bonus material to take a gander at once you finish watching the original documentary. The most prominent feature on the disc is a follow-up HBO documentary narrated by Kris Kristofferson, called Stepping Out: The DeBolts Grow Up, which takes a look at the troop five years after we last saw them. There has been another adoption, bringing the child count to twenty, and some grandchildren have also started popping up. I was very impressed that this was included on the disc, since it's an hour long and nearly as intuitive as the original documentary was.
There are also some text based commentaries such as a family update (which can also be found on the DeBolt website www.debolts.com), a biography for Bob and Dorothy, a biography for John Korty, and some information about AASK.
No matter who you are, this is one of those stories that will touch you on a personal level and leave an imprint. Bob and Dorothy were portrayed as two of the most caring and giving people out there, and the fact that they adopted fourteen children, many of whom were special needs, is testament of that. I don't know how they did it, but they were successful in building a large, caring family, that inspired others to do the same. The addition of a second documentary as a bonus feature is a definite plus, but the video and audio quality for the disc as a whole, leaves something to be desired. There's not much to do about it though, due to the age of the source material. If you're a viewer that enjoys a good documentary now and then, or maybe you're just a big softy, then I'm going to recommend Who are the DeBolts?.