'Blood Brother' Debuts at Sundance

The powerful documentary follows Rocky Braat, a young Pittsburgher who left his job to work at an AIDS orphanage in India.


Sometimes our friends do really cool things. Local filmmaker Steve Hoover’s best friend was that kind of guy.

Five years ago, Rocky Braat left his job and Pittsburgh for an excursion to India. Like many before him, he went in hopes of “finding himself”. He did so, unexpectedly, in an AIDS orphanage in the thriving city of Chennai.

He stayed for a month. As he said his goodbyes, the children asked when he would come back, calling him Rocky Anna (Tamil for brother). The connection rattled him. He was back with the children only a week later. He only left once more, at the end of that summer, and has remained there ever since — he lives in a hut, doles out anti retroviral medication, argues about his visa.

Hoover had to see his best friend’s new life for himself. Braat was his buddy from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, a roommate of seven years. They had begun their careers together. And, in a way, Hoover needed to find himself, too. He and his creative partner, Danny Yourd, were successfully working their way up the entertainment ladder. They had directed and produced national commercials and music videos. But that life, as Braat had also discovered, was always about the next step. So he joined his friend in India and began work on Blood Brother, a documentary about Braat's journey.

"I wasn’t interested in doing a fictional film," says Hoover. "I just didn’t have the desire for that." With Braat, "there was a good base story, but the experience made the story stronger. And I really love the medium. I love that the story I’m telling is real. I don’t have to manipulate it. That’s something I really connected to."

Hoover and Yourd (serving as producer) teamed up with a group including local production outfits Animal and Defacto Sound to put together the film.

This wasn't just any documentary effort, though. In a departure from industry norms, they were able to secure funding through Kickstarter, as well as donations of time and talent from around the area. (Hoover says that many of their monetary donations were local as well.)

In offering a larger group of people the chance to support a project like this, Hoover says, "You’re creating a community that supports the film. We’ve had great support the whole time we’ve been doing this — fundraising can be really special. It limits you to what resources you have. We couldn’t have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, but given the nature of our film, not just donating money, but time, made it possible."

All of the profits from Blood Brother will go directly back to Braat's efforts with affected children in India through the newly created nonprofit LIGHT (Living to Inspire Global Healing Today).

Of the overall experience, Hoover says, "I learned a lot about AIDS and HIV. I learned a lot about poverty. About how different life is in [other parts of the world] — the contrast between the rich and the poor is just so dramatic. When you’re amongst the poor there, it doesn’t feel like there’s a whole lot of hope. I learned about how fortunate I am to be born where I was and raised the way I was. I just got a lot of perspective about my life and how I want to use my talents and time. I want to help people."

And now Hoover gets to be the friend who does really cool things. Blood Brother was one of 4,044 feature-length submissions for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, only 119 of which were selected. Blood Brother is one of only sixteen world premieres in the U.S. Documentary Competition.

“It’s really exciting," says Hoover. "It’s very"—he pauses—"it’s equally intimidating and stressful. The better the film does, the more we can do to make a difference."

Blood Brother will screen five times during the Sundance Film Festival, from Sunday through 1/26. For more info and showtimes, check bloodbrotherfilm.com

Watch: Blood Brother Christmas

Categories: Arts & Entertainment