Winner of the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for US Documentary at Sundance, Blood Brother is a deeply moving film about how one person with steely determination and limitless love truly can make a difference in the lives of others.
The film tells the story of Rocky Braat who decided to go to India on a journey of self-discovery. In what proves to be a life-transforming encounter, he visited a care centre for women and children living with HIV and AIDS. Despite never really liking children, Braat returns home to Pittsburgh announcing he’ll be moving to India to work at the centre.
His best friend and director Steve Hoover is perplexed by his decision and decides to follow Rocky on his journey. The film chronicles that journey back to India, with Hoover discovering a very different story than the one he expected, leaving the lives of the two men and the children changed forever.
Steve Hoover went to India twice and spent three years making the film, the proceeds from which go to help the children that Rocky cares for in India. I spoke with Hoover while he was in town for the film’s Canadian Premiere at the Hot Docs Film Festival.
“From the get-go, I wanted it to be about Rocky just because he was sort of my connection to everything that was going on. I did want to talk about our friendship and it’s something I wanted to share with people. It did turn out to be a lot different than I intended because I didn’t know what would happen in India and I didn’t know how I would react to India either. It changed again after the first trip because I had an idea but I think I left even more confused because of the dramatic things that happened.”
How did the whole experience change you as both as filmmaker and as person?
“As a filmmaker, all my work before was to sell stuff or to make people look cool and just pushing product basically. So I feel like in a lot of ways it was the first real thing I had done. Not that I’m condemning what I’ve done before and I’m still making commercials but it just helped me to realize that I need this to be a part of my life – where I use film making to help people. It impacted my work a lot in that way. In my life in general, I feel like in a lot of ways it helped me to get out of my bubble. I had traveled the word before this but never to a place like this. I used to always say I feel like I need to get perspective on what is happening here and I feel like that did a lot.”
Are you surprised by the reaction people have had to the film, especially after winning at Sundance?
“I always tell people that I don’t know what it’s like to watch the film for the first time so I don’t fully get it. I know what I experienced and lived through and how much it affected me. But I also had this feeling while making the film, that I don’t know if I can really communicate what I experienced, but I’ll try my best. It is definitely a surprise and very encouraging.”
Despite the dire circumstances these HIV-positive kids are in, you still managed to portray their hopefulness and joy of life. How did you achieve that?
“That’s just a result of who they were. More often that not, the kids were happy, smiling and filled with joy. Every now and then they’d be sad or emotional. That was interesting to see too, because Rocky was very therapeutic in trying to talk to them and sit down off in the corner trying to talk to the kids, trying to draw them out.”
What was the reaction of the kids when you showed them the film in December?
“It was great. Great to see them laugh. But even on the difficult stuff [in the movie] they said that it while was very difficult and hard [to watch], they were very grateful for the film, for the experience, and for being a part of it.”
You’ve known Rocky for a long time. What did you learn about him during filming that you didn’t know before?
“I always knew Rocky was giving but I didn’t know the depth or how relentless he was. I actually didn’t realize how intensely committed he actually was. When I was in those situations, I was ready to check out and give up but he wouldn”t stop and kept pushing on.”
Blood Brother‘s next screening is on Friday, May 3 at 9:30 pm at the Isabel Bader Theatre. For tickets please visit the Hot Docs Festival online box office.