What would you do if your best friend -- your blood brother so to speak -- said he was planning to leave his work and life in Pittsburgh and move to India to work with HIV-positive orphans? Would you try to talk him out of it? Or would you, as Steve Hoover did, embrace his idealism and make a movie about it?
The Sundance competition film, "Blood Brother," is as much a story about true friendship as it is a compelling documentary about one man's effort to improve the lives of a group of children who turn out to be surprisingly resilient and joyous.
Director Steve Hoover is shocked and delighted that Sundance accepted his first feature-length film and that this week, he and his childhood buddy, Rocky Braat, and producer Danny Yourd will be in Park City sharing the children's story with audiences from all over the world.
In fact, according to Hoover, if not for Yourd the film might never have been made. "Danny has a lot of energy and passion. We have been working together for years and I have always felt, if I didn't work with him, the things I do would just sit on a hard drive."
Hoover and Yourd were at a Pittsburgh Steelers game when a Sundance programmer called with the news that "Blood Brother" had earned one of the coveted spots in the U.S. Documentary Competition.
"To be honest, I didn't have much confidence that it would be accepted, so when we got the phone call I was kinda shocked. I wasn't sure how I was supposed to react. I was pretty stunned by it," he said in an interview from Kennedy International Airport just a week before the festival's opening. He was on his way home from another trip to India where he and Braat had been looking for additional orphanages to support.
"The orphanage in the film is in really good shape, it has come a long way over the years, even from when Rocky first went there. It's in good shape, but these other orphanages, they are a lot more neglected we were trying to get an idea of what more can we do, if we can get some money through the film, what other needs can we meet?"
When Braat first visited the orphanage, the children were living in squalor. But something about their spirits triggered a deep emotional response. Braat too had suffered from a broken family, eventually living with his grandparents after his father went into the military and he was abused by his mom's boyfriend. He could not bear to abandon the children, and the love they showered on him seemed to fill a dark hole in his psyche.
According to Hoover, "All the things Rocky does for them, to try to make things special, is everything he wanted to have as a child but didn't. I think he makes a deliberate effort to give them love they wouldn't otherwise have."
That playful and tender relationship is beautifully captured on screen and prevents the film from becoming just another depressing story about injustice and despair.
Filmmaker Interview: "Blood Brother"
The documentary also has a narrative arc that will capture audiences. Braat begins a romance with an Indian woman and Hoover pesters his bro to make a commitment - even though it means Braat might never move back to Pittsburgh. And one of the children, Surya, becomes deathly ill, testing the limits of Braat's as well as Hoover's and Yourd's emotional and physical endurance.
With the film scheduled to premiere Sunday, Hoover said he hopes those who see it will become more proactive in their own lives. "I just look at Rocky and he was very much a normal guy and he stumbled upon something and has impacted a lot of lives. My hope would be, I guess, to inspire people, to examine what can they do with their lives and their resources, to ask is there anything they can do."
He also hopes the film will become a fund-raising vehicle for the orphanage and others like it. "We had asked people to work on the film for free because we wanted to help the kids, so we are all set up to do that. Nobody is making any money on the project; all the dollars are going to these efforts."
"Blood Brother" screens: