When Patton-native filmmaker Steve Hoover returned from India in 2011 with enough compelling and emotionally moving footage to craft a 90-minute documentary, he said he lost his taste for shooting music videos.
He was overseas filming the story of his best friend, Rocky Braat, who uprooted his secure Midwestern lifestyle to be a mentor and family figure to HIV-positive and AIDS-suffering orphans in a small, rural Indian village.
Hoover’s film, “Blood Brother” – his first documentary – premiered about a year ago at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and has won numerous awards since, including the Sundance U.S. Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for Documentary, the International Documentary Association’s 2013 Humanitas Award, Best Feature at the 2013 Big Sky Documentary Festival and 2013’s Most Valuable Documentary of the Year from Cinema for Peace.
The film made its first TV appearance Monday on PBS and will continue to be played through the week.
“The whole year has been really surreal,” said the 30-year-old Hoover, a 2001 Cambria Heights graduate. “It’s definitely exciting. I’m not a very expressive person, but it means a lot to me. I spent a lot of time editing the film, not having any idea what would come of it.
“To see it have this much play is really exciting. For all I knew, it wasn’t going to (go anywhere). I really didn’t think it would get outside of Pittsburgh. It’s really amazing.”
He also said he never expected Braat, a broken-home youth from Ohio with whom he attended film school in Pittsburgh, to find a new home in a foreign country. He said Braat, who flew to India as a tourist, never expected to visit the orphanage, which is just a half-hour from Chennai, India. It was on a whim. He also said he never expected Braat to sell everything he owned and move to India after a year back in the States.
But Hoover said Braat was greatly affected by his short visit – Braat didn’t even tour the rest of India after the orphanage. He couldn’t get their everyday plight out of his mind, nor the saddened faces of those who would want nothing more than to come with him and leave life at the orphanage behind.
In a clip from the film, Braat said he realized that while he couldn’t take the kids with him, he could bring himself to them.
“The greatest need he saw they had was an inconsistency in love and relationships,” Hoover said. “He saw people come in and out of their lives and he basically wanted to be a family member to them.”
Hoover said Braat fills many roles for the children, aside from being a surrogate brother or father. He counts out the children’s daily pills, teaches dental hygiene and makes hospital visits and birthdays brighter – all while living in a rat-infested hut and subsisting on rice.
“I would hear these incredible stories – some of them tragic, some of them funny or humiliating. I was very curious. I wanted to see his life, understand what he was doing and at least try to connect and see the love he was talking about that he had for these kids.”
Hoover said funding for “Blood Brother” was built entirely on donations and virtually all of the film’s credits are volunteers. With no debt or expectant investors, Hoover said he and a friend were free to establish a nonprofit, LIGHT, to funnel all the film’s proceeds back to Braat and the small orphanage.
LIGHT – found online at GiveThemLight.org – will put the film’s revenues toward building halfway homes to help the children transition into becoming independent adults.
With the advent of HIV and AIDS medications, Hoover said, afflicted children who would normally be sentenced to an early death are now living longer lives. The organization also looks to teach the children professional skill sets and create jobs that pay fair wages – without overworking or discriminating against them based on their disease.
“We’re trying to use the film to make a difference,” he said. “We wanted to use the film to be a mechanism to help them.
“We’re achieving that and it’s exciting.”
Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/JustinDennis.