7 Questions for Steve Hoover director of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize Winning Blood Brother
1. Tell me about Blood Brother?
Blood Brother is an intimate portrait of Rocky Braat, my best friend. Rocky, a graphic designer, left his life and career in Pittsburgh to become family to a group of HIV positive orphans in India. I wanted to see and understand why Rocky made this dramatic decision and share Rocky’s story.
2. Tell us about your relationship with Rocky? What made you follow him to India?
Our friendship is open and honest, I believe it’s unique. We are like family. I wanted to follow Rocky to India because I wanted to see his life there, it was a whole side of him that I really didn’t know or understand. I had been hearing about it from a distance in his emails and over the phone. It was hard for me to really grasp what he was doing, I just had no point of reference. I tried to picture Rocky in this village. He just seemed out of place to me, until I went. Ultimately, I wanted to tell Rocky’s story because I personally found him interesting. He is a character, he’s different and he’s doing something courageous and worthwhile, in my opinion.
3. What was you and your crew’s experience like shooting in India? What was your biggest challenge?
Rocky challenged us to live like everyone else when we came. The truth is that there really wasn’t an option to do otherwise. We stayed in the village and we slept on the dirty floors. I woke up at times to rats literally scratching at my head. The experience helped us to connect with the people and the culture but it definitely made filming difficult because we were never physically at our best. Typically you like to get a good nights rest before you empty yourself creatively on a shoot. We were tired and uncomfortable the whole time. Fatigue and heat made it easy to forget our purpose. In that environment you don’t want to work, you want relief and comfort. That was challenging. It was also very difficult filming children in adversity. There’s something that feels fundamentally wrong about pointing a camera at a child with exposed wounds all over his body. Especially considering all of my previous work I had been pointing the camera at people who have been through hours of makeup.
4. How much is this film about Children and Aids in India i.e “The issue”, and how much is it just about two best friends and the different decisions they have made in life. Im sure in post production this came up a lot?
I wanted the film to tell Rocky’s story, which involves our friendship, the children and HIV/AIDS. I didn’t want to make an “issue” film, but I did want to touch on the “The Issue” as it is, again, a part of Rocky’s story. I learned a lot about HIV/AIDS from the kids, which I wanted to communicate in the film. I was connected to the issue through Rocky and the kids and I wanted the audience to potentially share that experience with me.
5. Did you have any expectations about the film when you decided to pack your bags to India and how did that change towards the end of the film project?
I had some expectations but looking back, they were pretty low to be honest with you. I wrote questions, had an extensive shot list and hopes, but I really didn’t know how it would all come together. I didn’t expect to be moved in the ways that I was by India, Rocky and the kids. I couldn’t expect the difficulties, emotional pain and tragic events that took place. I also couldn’t expect the victories. By the end of the second trip, I believed that within the ten terabytes of media there was something special.
6. Talk about what it was like winning the Grand Jury and audience award at Sundance?
I didn’t expect to win anything at Sundance, I was happy enough to just be there. The whole experience was a whirlwind. I don’t recall ever feeling so insecure, hopeful, frightened, intimidated and happy all at once. Especially after our first public review, which was pretty negative, I felt defeated. But through the screenings I was picked back up by the audiences and people that were connecting with the story. When we won the audience award I was so relieved and encouraged. I couldn’t believe it. I was content and felt grateful for all the people that came to see the film and share their support. I thought, “this is what I wanted to do and it is happening”. When Davis Guggenheim announced the Grand Jury I just couldn’t believe it. It was a blur from there. I don’t remember what I said on stage and I don’t want to know I was walking backstage, saw John Cooper and spontaneously gave him a hug. I felt like a kid. It’s an honor that I will always be grateful for and it’s impacted my life in a great way.
7. With the success do you now feel a responsibility to to speak out about aids in India, in a way you probably didn’t anticipate when you started making the film?
Yes. I realized when I went to India and connected with the kids that I never truly cared about HIV/AIDS before that. Now that it has names and faces, I care, it’s different. I wish I had empathy before that. I’m happy to be using the film to bring support and hopefully connect people with the issue. I’m not making a dime off of the film, all of the money that would come our way is going straight to HIV/AIDS initiatives as well as other needs that poverty produces. We are partnered with HIV/AIDS organizations that will receive support and we have also set up a way to help Rocky and the kids receive support. We will support Rocky as he stays in India and addresses needs and issues as they come up as well as bringing support to the home and others like it. I’m excited to be a part of this.