Blood Brother Filmmakers Chat About Personal Journey to India

Blood Brother filmmaker Steve Hoover, right, and producer Danny Yourd, left.

Blood Brother filmmaker Steve Hoover, right, and producer Danny Yourd, left.

If ever a project was a “labor of love,” it’d be Steve Hoover’s documentary Blood Brother, which is about the journey his friend Rocky Braat took, both literally and spiritually. The film explores Braat’s travels to India, where he ended up working with HIV-infected children who become an extended family for the disillusioned American.  “Despite its ostensibly depressing subject and a few tough-to-watch sequences,” wrote Dennis Harvey in Variety, “Blood Brother is never less than engrossing, and it’s often delightful.” Adds Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe & Mail: “No doubt, Blood Brother is narrowly focused on Braat’s needs and evolution, but in contrast to social-issue films filled with talking-head experts and bullet-point graphs, this is a portrait of a caregiver that goes to the core of motivation – in this case, the need to share love.”

We checked in with filmmaker Hoover, along with the film’s producer, Danny Yourd, to learn more about their own journey to make this film, which premieres on PBS this Monday, January 20 at 10 PM (check local listings).

How did you two first meet and what inspired you to work together on the Blood Brother project?

We first met in college and started working together on assignments. We developed a good working relationship and eventually started a company focused on music videos. After a few years, we were hired by Animal, the production company for Blood Brother, for commercial work. Rocky is a mutual friend and we both watched him as he uprooted his life and moved to India. We were inspired, although somewhat confused by his strong decision to essentially leave everything he had worked for here. We were all in the same place in life, coming out of college, working for a degree and entering the workforce. His decision was something we definitely couldn’t relate to. We had no personal or emotional connection to the kids or India. We wanted to see for ourselves and try to understand the love that Rocky had for these kids. We also wanted to do something apart from commercials and music videos. In many ways, it was an experiment.

How much of an impact does something like the long distance travel involved for this film have on budget? Do you keep your crew tiny so you can manage all the globetrotting?

The majority of the initial budget was all travel expenses. We raised that money through Kickstarter and that covered six people’s flights to India. We slept on Rocky’s cement floor in his hut. So while we were there we had very little, if any, living expenses. Keeping the crew small definitely helped with globetrotting. We all wear multiple hats which helps with our ability to stay small and nimble. As much as traveling affected the budget, we were secure because of Animal’s support.

Along those lines, just a technical question for our budding filmmakers out there: Was it mostly you with the camera, Steve? And what type of camera did you use to achieve such an immediate but sharply attractive look and feel?

We had a small crew for the first trip to India. We carried with us a 5D, 7D [digital still cameras], a small HD Vixia and an 8mm camera with 16 rolls of film. We had enough cameras to pass around so everyone was filming, including the kids at times. John Pope, the cinematographer, spent time crafting principle photography and would document as well. Steve had to go alone on the second trip because of budget. He took a 7D, a few lenses and focused mostly on content.

Still from Blood Brother

I would love to ask about the religious question that was raised by a couple of writers who questioned whether certain religious aspects of Rocky’s life and beliefs were left out. I know you wrote about this on your site but could you talk about this question, how fair it is, and how you handled it?

I think it’s perfectly fair that questions about Rocky’s faith were raised.  Through our social media and at almost every Q&A I encouraged people to look into the book we published containing Rocky’s journal entries. I explained that the book focuses more on Rocky’s faith, his prayers and personal thoughts. His faith was never something I was trying to hide, it just wasn’t the central focus of the film for artistic reasons. As a filmmaker you only get 90 minutes.

Rocky said many times over, he didn’t want his life to be wasted in a cubicle. He quoted the film About Schmidt in an interview with me, saying, “Once I am dead and everyone who knew me dies too, it will be as though I never existed. What difference has my life made to anyone? None that I can think of. None at all.” This and similar thoughts stuck with him as he [whiled] away at work.

I reacted with a letter of response not because of questions, but because of harmful accusations. There was a false image being drawn of Rocky being a missionary sent by his church, and that the film is really a [part of] some corporate evangelical effort.

What impact do you hope this film will have?

I hope that the film not only deeply benefits the subjects, giving them more resources and opportunities for life, but also hope the film will inspire audiences on a personal level. I don’t have specifics for what I want people to do with that inspiration; I believe that’s up to the individual to figure that out. However, we do have outlets for people to get involved to help with the causes and people in the film.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in making this film?

Filming children in adversity. It feels morally inappropriate to film a sick child. Is it better to hold a camera, or lend a hand? Will filming them truly bring support? I had to wrestle with these types of thoughts while filming and while editing. I had to make sure the misfortunes of the children wasn’t being exploited. Apart from this, there were physical and technical challenges with filming in a rural village. We dealt with everything from power cuts to rats.

What would you have liked to include in Blood Brother that didn’t make the cut?

There were many great moments that didn’t make the final cut of the film. I removed a lot of comedy for the most part. There’s always something funny, like some comical exchanges between Rocky and the kids. I also wish I could have showcased every child in the home. I learned everyone’s name, voice, and personality. They are all very special to me and they all deserve to be recognized. Each child has something beautiful and endearing about them.

from Blood BrotherWas there scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you?

[spoilers; read this section after watching film]

I was moved by my entire experience in India, but there are two very moving scenes in Blood Brother for me. The death of Vemethi was especially troubling because I had never witnessed a child dying. It was especially difficult because I had known her prior to her death, she wasn’t a complete stranger. It was sad to know that she didn’t have to die, it could have been prevented. The most victorious and moving scene to me, though, was Surya’s entire hospital experience. I have too much to say about it all, but there’s nothing more inspiring than seeing someone come so close to death, then turning the corner and coming back to life. Despair to hope, it was a glorious time.

Have the people featured in the film seen it?

I had the pleasure of sharing Blood Brother with the entire hostel in India. We stretched a bed sheet over the wall and projected the film for all the kids. The response was amazing. There were a lot of tears. They said it was difficult to watch, but overall they were very grateful for the film.

What are you guys working on doing next?

We’re currently in post-production for a character documentary about a Ukrainian man, Gennadiy. We had a successful Kickstarter campaign which allowed us to travel to Ukraine for shooting. Animal is again supporting this film and we’re mostly the same crew from Blood Brother, with one addition. We hope to return to Ukraine soon for more content. The story continues to take shape, it’s layered and difficult to summarize at this point.

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

Seek advice. That’s one thing we were never afraid to do – ask questions and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Those mistakes make you stronger and better at storytelling.

About Craig Phillips

ITVS Interactive Editor, based in San Francisco.
This entry was posted in Behind the FIlms, Independent Lens Season, Interview and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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  • Laura Lou

    Rocky is an amazing human being. He is selfless, strong, brave and caring. He has made such a big difference in this world!

  • Erica Gabbard

    This film will be lingering in my mind. For people, like myself, who has never left America, it really puts into perspective the actual issues going on in the world. To see other human beings dealing with such tragedies and still smiling shows strength and hope in that country. We all share this world, and we should all be equal. As an American, I feel more equipped with means of survival. After this moving film, I also see a lot of materialistic things around me I’d gladly give up to see more of the world fed, educated and healthy. I hope others are just as inspired.

    • Don Reid

      We can never “all be equal” Erica. I would like to hope the future might offer greater justice and fairness for all people, but Free Market Enterprise does not embrace these values.

  • Matt Jones

    Wow! Just saw this film and it was very powerful. It brought me and my wife to tears several times. I visited Nepal and saw similar living conditions. It definitely opened my eyes to how much I take for granted. I have two healthy kids who are similiar to the ages of these kids in the film and my heart was overwhelmed with both joy and sadness. The selflessness of Rocky and the other staff just blew me away. Great film!!!

  • JP

    he is simply great

  • Ana Lee Slaughter

    Rocky Ana, God Bless You…

  • Paul D

    Just an amazing experience to watch this film, reminds me of group of guys I meet from “God will provide”they do the same thing all over the world,sacrificing every thing they have to share some love with these kids

  • Paul D

    Just amazing ,I am deeply moved just makes me realize how far we are from reality of life being numbed by all abundance of stuff we have and social media

  • soraya ostowari

    wow, what an amazing movie and a person. Rocky is the pure defintion of God, Angel or whatever your belief is. This movie need to be shown at highschools (it wouldnt hurt to show it in the money, greedy corporation).
    this simply shows what true humanity is and how far it can go.

  • Susi Berkman

    I watched the show last night and it is still in my head all day today. In fact I have never commented on any show I have ever seen. But I have to say that this was the most touching story of love I have ever experienced. To know that here are people who really care enough to do something about it! Rocky is a true hero (my hero). Thank you all for sharing you story with me. It will be with me forever.

  • David Carnahan

    What an amazing film. Please continue creating these films. The world needs to know about the forgotten majority – the poor and needy. How can I contact Rocky (et al) to possibly support? davedad_98@yahoo.com

  • geli mcaloney

    is there a account set up where you can help him out with money.This film affected me deeply!!

  • Paul D

    This film awaked feelings in me that have been long asleep,I guess daily hassle numbs me to the point I stop seeing what the real life is all about

  • Manmohan Pardesi

    I too watched the film last night and shaken to my core. Rocky is an incredible human being, highly spirited, sincere and lives by what his heart dictates. If prayers work, then I definitely wish that the amazing grace of God or Cosmos (or whatever it is called by) be around him and protect him always till his destiny is fulfilled. Psychologists says that if parenting is absent the child has no will to live and most often die. Rocky is not a brother to those kids but both a Dad and Mom, in my opinion. The HIV/AIDS adds to the miseries of those kids. I was touched to see happiness in their lives all brought about by one person. I was moved to see how he treated them not as symptoms of diseases but as beings. May his this belief and faith not be doubted by him for a moment and remain unshaken eternally. I too am looking to contribute in my own ways and help Rocky bring about those differences in the children lives.

    • cooganalaska

      Yours is a wonderful and inspiring comment. May Yahweh (that is His name) bless you and reveal Himself to you.

  • lisawarner

    The song Love In The Nick of Time, who sings it?

    • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

      That song “I Can’t Make You Love Me/Nick of Time” is performed by Bon Iver (and is a cover, was originally written by Mike Reid & Allen Shamblin / Bonnie Raitt).

      –Craig, Independent Lens

  • AG

    God has a way of sprinkling his angels among us, and to those who really need them……..

  • Jarnea

    I am one that believes that everything happens for a reason. I might not be someone with any type of influence but after watching Blood Brothers I have no doubt about what I was put in this world to do. Thank you Rocky for being that change I needed and would LOVE(Living Out our Values Everyday) to see in this damned world. Because you took that leap of faith that changed the lives of our future(the kids) I can now believe that their is still hope for their generation. I love you and may God continue to bless you and your endeavors…and thank you Steve for showing the world what a true friend looks like..you put your life on the same line Rocky did. You two are my heroes. I pray God puts us on the same path in the future..Be blessed!!
    If I may ask, are either of you still in India?

    • Mythili Girikumar

      Rocky is in Chennai, India. We watched the screening along with Rocky and his wife in our school auditorium last Friday(11th April, 2014). Such a simple loving young man with a heart immensely large for his years! Really moving. I don’t think words are ever sufficient to describe my feelings. I’ve been talking about ‘most nothing else to my family since. Rocky Braat’s facebook page might give us an idea about how to help.

  • wayne

    Wow! First I would like to give the young man rocky the credit he deserves of being one of the most incredible human beings I have viewed in life so far. I am 52 and thought I have either experienced or saw most things but I was so sadly mistaken:( for myself I had started to loose faith in the human race but this young man and his filming crew has encouraged me not to:). Thank you rocky

  • Indieview

    The film is indisputably a masterpiece in the way it enables the audience to see through the eyes of a very unusual purpose driven man whom to me has many characteristics of a mystic.

    But the film never specifically disclosed what now appears to be Rocky’s underlying motivation and is now being used to generate funds for what appears to be a fundamental evangelical outreach into a foreign culture with very different norms and values.

    I notice the L.I.G.H.T. donation site is described as ‘repurposed’. Apparently L.I.G.H.T. was originally started by James Tomol, the founder of an evangelical group upon whose website Rocky has posted.

    When I first watched Blood Brother I wondered where Rocky, whom as the film makes clear is significantly disadvantaged, got the resources to make the original trip to India and after that other travels. Now, there’s a plausible answer.

    Rocky is a quintessential example of person-to-person human kindness in this often discouraging and cynical reality. But now that the heretofore hidden agenda behind his motivation has come to light people who contribute to his endeavor should be aware of it.

    • Kayla

      As someone who is familiar with James Tomol and the organizations affiliated with Rocky’s work, I don’t believe its omission from the film is a huge mystery or an attempt at a cover-up. Rocky’s motivation is pretty obviously prescribed by his core values, which are typically shaped by one’s faith (whatever it may or may not be). James Tomol can be called an “evangelical,” although the word Christian probably suffices in itself, in the sense that he believes that the Bible is true and responds to his belief by sharing it with those who are interested in its message – but that is characteristic of many faiths (as it probably should be if you are so convicted of your faith’s veracity). However, his (and Rocky’s for that matter) work on behalf of those in need is in no way dependent on said people’s favorable response to or negation of his beliefs.

      As to the question of how a disadvantaged young man can raise the funds for the trip, as someone who has a limited income myself and is currently working and living in China (where the cost of living is much higher than India’s but remarkably lower than that of the US), I can attest to the fact that it is not all that difficult to raise the funds for such a trip, especially when living as frugally as Rocky is. The reality is that a foreigner with a Bachelor’s degree can gain opportunities in this part of the world fairly easily – especially if they are as flexible in their accommodations as Rocky apparently is. Further, the largest cost in such trips is usually the air fare, which is steep but not so steep with planning and/or the use of a credit card. I am not saying Rocky was not funded in full or in part by members from his church (I don’t know as I do not personally know the man). However, I think it is misleading to insinuate that there is a hidden agenda behind his, or the organization who provides assistance to him, service to those in need.

      While I completely understand why people who do not believe in Christianity would not want to fund an organization who’s purpose is to propagate it, this is not the purpose of this organization and I would hate to see people who otherwise would give to these children decide not to because they were mislead into believing that the aids orphanage is just an effort to convert these women and children. It’s not. Its service to them may be spiritually motivated but the execution of such services are secular. God’s command to love others (in the Christian view point) is not contingent on said persons being Christians or perspective Christians themselves. Many Christian (and Buddhist and Hindu and Muslim and secular, etc.) organizations do not have any “agenda” in helping others except that it is something they personally feel called to do because they believe it is right.

  • Rachel Gasparraj

    As a Caucasian American woman that married a man from Tamil Nadu, thank you for your beautiful images of the people and the land.

  • Zena Slow

    watch it last night an this morning wish i had the gusts to do what this young man has done the world needs more people like this just open your hearts an let them in how simple an amazing

    • Jd Ballwin

      Was good I think I am simple and amazing but
      people walk all over Me.

  • chris

    The film says it all–I have nothing more inspiring to add. I was amazed at Rocky’s respect for the culture. I was amazed at his turn-about–that he was not a big fan of children, and then he WAS! I loved the playfulness. I loved the freedom-to-touch another, to physically minister to another.

    But I have questions: First, did the children receive schooling? Did the village ever get over its fear/suspicion of sick children in its midst? Is there a sequel with Nirmala, the woman Rocky married, having a role? Is there a doctor or a nurse at the orphanage? Who is providing the HIV drugs? Who is providing food and clean water? The women and children who age out, how many? Where do they go? Are any of the children ever adopted, outside of the village, outside of India?

  • terri valko

    I am so amazed at these young men. I am 54 an disabled in spine, I feel like I see life from a box. Now I have the net so I am trying to make a difference to someone, anyone, or any creature

    • Cynthia Snodgrass

      Terry, So nice to have your input!

  • terri valko

    A moment ago was the first time I have ever posted. I think this film woke me up.I lost my little sister exactly one year ago. I have to realize there is so many still to live for. Thank you guys for that.God speed

  • Mirta Rubalcava

    Thank you for this powerful, tender film. Rocky anna IS love. How is Surya?

  • Wendy A Clark

    I was so inspired by this young man. My first instinct was we need to throw more money at these homes to protect the children. On reflection I can see that education is all that can put an end to the spread of this terrible disease and benefit all nations. I was moved beyond words by the courage of little Surya. Not one disease but two. Has he survived? Are Rocky and his Bride happy in their work together?

  • alton williams

    I have never smiled and cried so much in my life..God bless you Rocky..you are truly a angel of god.Thank You.

  • God is gracious

    I am so thankful I had to get up with the baby in the middle of the night…otherwise, I never would have seen this incredible documentary. I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I only hope I am permanently changed by what I saw…that these feelings of love and gratitude can be shared with everyone in my life. I loved the film and being reminded of how much I take for granted and how little the things I consume myself with every day actually matter. I desperately needed to refocus and repurpose my life. This film just gave me the “kick in the butt” I needed to do so. Thank you to everyone involved in producing this incredible work of art.

  • Chepa Traviesa Portillo

    Wow never seen anyone with a bigger heart you’re truly a blessing, you’re beautiful rocky I thank God he made you.<3 you're an angel!

  • Rick Steadman

    It’s wonderful to see the warmth and smiles of these children even though they have gone and are facing so much adversity. Unlike the majority of us, Rocky doesn’t seem to have built up the walls around our emotions that most of have as we grow older and you could see and feel that his love is so pure like that of the children around him.

  • BobsYourUncleBob

    I viewed this Independent Lens feature through my local PBS affiliate on Sunday, Jan 26, but will note that a person cannot merely “watch” this film. At some point I just realized that these words & images had rearranged the furniture & would be sticking around for quite some while. This is fine & is welcomed.

    Hoover & Yourd speak through a narrative that is clear, concise, compelling & free from even the slightest feint toward manipulative techniques or cloying tropes. Nothing could be more compelling than the spartan reality to which they provide a window.

    This unrelenting spartan reality hammers assault after assault upon Rocky & his kids, and it is through them that we experience a humanity, a primal essence of life itself that is at the same time both unspeakably frightening & inexpressibly beautiful.

    To paraphrase from the film, after a wrenching episode extended over some 4 months, Rocky credits God for having repeatedly pulled Surya back from the brink of death, but Surya’s doctors give Rocky the credit for having done so. I suggest that Rocky & the doctors draw a distinction, but it is a distinction without a difference.

  • disqus_I0XdxsoBJn

    I watched this film twice and never moved while I watched! It was exquisite! Thank you for exposing so much human goodness; from a young man who was born in a hole-in-the-wall city in Ohio. I’m an old lady from Cleveland, Ohio. I can’t lend a helping hand, but I can hand a little $ for the till.

  • Peter Newson

    Blood Brothers is a definition of ‘humanity'; what one person can do to make a diff in another’s life. The Kardashians, and those who follow them, should be forced to view this film until they gain a modicum of decency.

  • Jenny Snapp-Williamson

    Blood Brother was profoundly moving. I usually don’t comment, but I am so inspired by Rocky. He is an amazing person doing amazing things. If only we could all be a little more like him!

  • ChristianBuddhist

    It’s not a great film!!!
    Rather, Rocky is a great entity. A beautiful soul. A Saint on earth.
    The film only captured what Rocky was doing whether they filmed it or not! It aint about the film. We may have never seen it but, his beautiful, selfless deed would still have happened!
    It’s soley and completely about a saint here on earth… And I’d like to kiss him and hug him.

    That being said, thank you for filming him and his experience with these orphans….

  • Curt Lindner

    My Comment after viewing the documentary was not included. I felt it was one sided leaning pro illegal. As a Native Arizonan we see the crime in our cities and rural areas from illegal immigration. That would of been better to watch to balance the program.

  • Don Reid

    My apologies David. I thought this was an open forum for opinion. –The film & Rocky’s story are indeed extraordinary, but I do not share the NewAge / hippie “All-we-need-is-love” sympathies expressed in these comments.

    • cooganalaska

      Sadly, if only you could ever realize that it is the free market, more than any other means, which has alleviated the most poverty and suffering in world history. Even the most ardent socialist must somehow gain more than his fundamental needs in order to have enough to willingly share with others.

  • Debby Pratt

    I personally am glad you didnt push Rockys religious views to the forefront of this film.. not because im not a Christian… i am.. but because the film now is not about religion but about a human being.. the kind i hope we all strive to be…

  • sue

    Rocky is one of the most authentic people I have ever seen. He has a wisdom that most do not grasp until much older.
    Thank you to the filmmakers and supporters that took a story we’d never hear about and share it with the world – it will make a difference for many, and was so carefully crafted. Bravo!

  • Pingback: Update on Rocky Braat | Independent Lens Blog()

  • Maria Pulejo

    God bless you, guys! From Russia with great respect! Это меняет на молекулярном уровне, после просмотра ты уже не можешь смотреть на окружающую действительность прежними глазами.