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An Independent in Wonderland

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Marc Weiss is the series creator of POV, which premiered its first season in 1988. This article first appeared in the Summer 1988 issue of Documentary Magazine, then titled International Documentary. In 2012, POV celebrates its 25th Anniversary on PBS.

Marc Weiss

POV Series Creator Marc Weiss

As someone who has spent the better part of twenty years making, writing about, distributing and publicizing independent films, I consider myself a part of the independent community. All of a sudden I find myself working in public television — a strange place indeed.

I value my identity as an outsider in the system and intend to preserve the values and priorities I’ve brought with me into this strange new environment.

I share the belief of many independents that film, video and television are powerful forces in this society, profoundly shaping our perceptions of ourselves and our world; that these media are being increasingly centralized and commercialized; that the primary loyalty of too many TV programmers is to money rather than their responsibility to keep the public informed; that, in a democratic society, diverse voices ought to be heard through the mass media; but that in most cases only a very narrow spectrum of ideas and opinions are admitted to the public airwaves.

In my view, the best independent work is at once a critique of commercialized media and an alternative platform for people and ideas not usually heard in that context.

At various times in the past, public television has provided a “home” for independent work. But the conservative climate and chronic underfinancing of the last seven years have closed the door on many independent works of quality. This series is an attempt ot pry that door open once again.

The series origin can be traced to the 1986 U.S. Film Festival panel discussion that featured Nick Hart-Williams of Britain’s Channel 4 and Frontline executive producer David Fanning. During the forum Hart-Williams reported that Channel 4 had accumulated such a backlog of already acquired independent films and tapes that they have decided to create anthology series to showcase them.

Fanning replied that he had often thought there should be something similar on public television in the U.S. After the formal session broke up, I approached Fanning to ask his advice on how such a series could actually happen. His response was that the only viable approach would be to get the backing of some kind of station consortium.

To start the process off, Fanning put me in touch with Barry Chase, Vice President of Public Affairs Programming at PBS, and Henry Becton, president of WGBH in Boston. Both Chase and Becton introduced me to David M. Davis, executive director of American Playhouse. David, who played a key role in establishing the Independent Documentary Fund at WNET when he was at Ford Foundation, supported the idea immediately and agreed to become executive director of the series. With his help, we created a new consortium, which is essentially a parallel organization to Public Television Playhouse Inc., the parent of American Playhouse. It has the same four station KCET (Los Angeles), South Caroline ETV, WGBH (Boston), and WNET (New York), and the same board of directors.

With the consortium in place, we began looking for money. The fund-raising process has been slow and difficult, although not as bad as what most filmmakers have to go through to get their projects made.

The first funding for the project came in August, 1986, in the form of a development grant from the Benton Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based foundation which supports projects in communication and public policy. This allowed us to prepare major proposals for CPB, the National Endowment for the Arts and a number of other foundations.

In the past year and a half, we have received grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ($200,000), the CPB Program Fund ($200,000), the Harris Foundation ($100,000) and the PBS Program Development Fund ($35,000). As of this writing, our grant with the NEA is still pending, although we are some-what optimistic that they will grant us the $100,000 we’ve requested. We are still short of the full budget we need to package and promote the series properly, but we are continuing to seek funds, primarily in the form of contributions from individuals and foundation grants.

Watch POV’s 25th Anniversary Trailer:

Although the Board of Directors has the ultimate authority over the series, I wanted a mechanism that would bring direct input from producers and programmers of independent films, as well as representatives of public TV stations. To that end, I created an Editorial Committee with equal representation from the independent community and stations, as well as observers from PBS and CPB.

We consult with this group regularly on everything ranging from the series guidelines to the selection and promotion of programs in the series. The selection process provides a good example of how central their input is to important decisions.

In the fall of 1987, we sent a Call for Entries out to some 15,000 filmmakers nationwide – and received about 550 submissions. First, the complete annotated list of all submitted films and tapes was sent to committee members for their comments on works with which they were familiar. Next, all the films were screened by staff members and a number of professional filmmakers and programmers in the New York area. As a result, a “first cut” list of about 100 works was created.

Through a final found of in-house screenings, I reduced this list to 40, all of which were screened one more time at an intensive three-day meeting of the Editorial Committee. In addition, each committee member had the right to add a title of his or her choosing to the screen list, insuring that good films would not be overlooked because of subjective factors in previous rounds of evaluation.

As you might expect, this committee had lots to say about each film we screened. Their comments and ratings weighed heavily in my final selection. In fact, several of my favorite films were eliminated through this process, and a couple of my less faovirte titles made their way into the series because of strong support from the committee.

In the final analysis, all of us feel that we’ve come up with 10 programs which represent a tremendous range and depth of independent work. They cover a diversity of subjects in many different styles. Some are funny, some moving and some inspiring, but all of them have a strong emotional as well as intellectual impact, and we think they’re going to be very engaging for a national TV audience.

I have to say that the most frustrating part of my job is not the politicking within the public television system, not even the fundraising. It is having a large list of high quality films, but only have the funds to show a dozen of them. At this point, I can only hope that there will be future seasons – adequately funded – and an opportunity to show some of the work that didn’t make it into Season 1.

Will the independent community get behind this series? I hope so, because it could make a tremendous difference.

Now that the schedule for the first season is in place, a new phase of work begins. Although the series has substantial support within PBS, that’s only part of the story. PBS has given P.O.V. a prominent place in its schedule, “feeding” the series to the stations on Tuesdays at 10. But then it’s up to the program managers at each of the 300 plus stations to decide when they will broadcast it in their local area. Or whether they will broadcast it as a series at all. Because of the backing of a station consortium, there’s a certain built-in credibility. We hope many stations will carry the programs at the same time they’re fed, or at least a consistent time from week to week.

But this is by no means guaranteed, and we will need help in convincing the stations that there’s an audience for this work, especially in the “major markets.” In many cities, we hope the statons will co-sponsor a public event – a “sneak preview” for the public and the press – with a local independent media organization. In Los Angeles and New York, we are hoping to mount programs at major institutions like the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the Museum of Modern Art.

In all of these activities, the input, energy and press contracts of independent producers could make a major contribution to the success of the series. We would welcome calls to our office from anyone who can lend a hand.

Get more documentary film news and features: Subscribe to POV’s documentary blog, like POV on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @povdocs!

POV Guest Blogger
POV Guest Blogger
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 300 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.
  • http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/ Christopher Campbell

    Thank you for all of this, Tom. Not just because it was inspired by my review. I would like to give some credit, though, to Daniel Walber, a critic with whom I co-host The Realness podcast. I think he was the first to mention a presumption that Rocky was a Christian missionary as far as it had got me thinking about the issue.

    • Rocky Braat

      Hi Tom and Christopher,
      Actually I am a christian. As far a minster, pastor, priest, evangelical, Or any other church type term I hold not title or position of any sort. Not church has ever come and help me or taught what i was doing was important or essential to being a christian. Honestly I read the bible. Love jesus and saw a 45 minute documentary on mother tersea I knew I was Never going to love people just attending a service once a weak. For some people they like that and thats not for me to judge. Even in the movie I said I hated kids and i did I that they were annoying I wanted to go see the house of the dying where mother teresa worked. I thought that was where I was going to learn to get were ever it is I wanted to go then. IF you guys are ever in India come visit us and have food in my home my wife Is a good cook.

  • Tom G.

    This feels like an attack piece yet I don’t see why, you clearly have an agenda yourself it seems.

    You say that “Secular audiences can see it as a secular story, and Christian audiences can see it as a religious one.” which can be said about many films, yet you list it as a negative. As an athiest I’m not interested in watching religious films (they just don’t appeal to me) but watching a film by christian filmmakers is not a negative if they can respect the audience enough not to make it a sermon. And it seems clear that they did what they could to not alienate the viewer while addressing Rocky’s faith.

    Also in your own logic, if these people are such amazing Christians why would they lie about Rocky not being a Missionary? Isn’t that one of the ten commandments?

    You’re “connecting the dot’s” seems far reaching and pathetic at times and you negate any strong points you have by including trash like this “Miller is a great, accessible speaker, by the way. He’s energetic and
    fun. He refers to his fellow Christians as “bro” and “brother” and
    “sister” — something worth considering when thinking about the title of
    Hoover’s film.” This is Fox News level smearing where you take quotes from people who aren’t the filmmakers and try to have them speak for them.

    You’re a ridiculous conspiracy theorist and it saddens me that you may convince other people that there’s shady business here.

    • Tom Roston

      I appreciate your response which I consider your own critical thinking. I’m doing the same with Blood Brother. It’s not an attack. And as for Miller, I am bringing him into the picture because A) I genuinely think he’s an engaging speaker B) because I think he represents a new, younger form of religious-speak and Christian culture which I believe might explain a lot about Hoover. It also seems worth noting that “brother” is often used in the church; seems entirely relevant when considering the film’s title.

      • Mary

        It may interest you to know that the original title was “Uncle America”. They had to change it for copyright reasons. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/endeavor/uncle-america-a-documentary

      • jmk

        It’s also worth noting (which you didn’t in your article Tom) that the children of the orphanage call Rocky “Rocky Anna,” Anna meaning brother in Tamil.

  • Dan Parris

    What if he included the faith element more in the film and been more blatant about it? What do you think would have happened to the film? Still got Sundance’s top award?

    • Tom Roston

      At the least, it would have caused a lot of discussion about the subject, which I think would have been very fruitful.

      • Todd

        Tom, That response is BS and you know it. It would not have gotten any discussion because it would not have past jury.

      • procksi

        Not knowing anyone involved in the film my guess would be that they were focused on two things: 1. the kids/families and 2. Rocky’s experience. Why does that turn into a religious editorial?

  • Stan B

    One thing that’s interesting is that you neglect to mention that the film was produced by and funded by Animal (animalvfx.com), not Hoover’s church. It also seems that Rocky went to India without church funding and without any “missionary” training. As an ex-evangelical I can tell you that people acting on their own without bowing to the existing authority structures doesn’t go over too well. If Rocky had wanted to be a missionary there are dozens of organizations that would have paid him a salary to be there. The film was also partnered with Act V (actfive.org), definitely not an evangelical organization. My guess is that evangelicals will see this as way too spiritualistic/vague to help them promote their ideology. And my guess is that’s why Steve didn’t want to put a bunch of God-talk in the film, because the christian right would co opt if for their own purposes.

  • gmolodtsov

    Great investigation, thanks!

    I’m programming documentary sections of the Moscow International Film festival and we did screen “Blood Brother” in Russia with a huge sucess, so now we try to put it to our TV-slot for the world best creative documentaries at “Kultura” channel.

    And we don’t have any problems or questions regarding the religious side of the film – we appreciate that it shows the Character with a brilliant image style.
    this point of the religious background gives me point to push the film on TV – as we have discussion show after the screening and in our mostly Chrisitan country this might be a good point for the discussion – http://smotrimshow.ru/en

  • none

    Why is it Tom, that when anything good Is made or done there are people always finding away to poke holes in it. What do you hope to gain by this? I agree with Tom G it seems as though you have an agenda yourself, but ask yourself is it worth shooting down something that could help bring more light to those living with AIDS around the world, the poverty, the loneliness that some children have to endure or the fact that by helping make sure this film fails, you are helping the American people to continue to be blind to the suffering others by in sighting a religious battle instead of seeing that it is a film about humanity and the human heart.

  • Cathy Ann Armour

    http://www.bloodbrotherfilm.com/blog-post/open-letter-from-blood-brother-director-steve-hoover/

    I read this and the director’s response. I witnessed the screening at Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis. Afterwards someone asked “what would lead someone to decide this was their mission in life and give up everything for it?” It brought up good conversation. As an evangelical Christian, I HOPED that it was Christ’s love that prompted Rocky – but that wasn’t implied and I’m glad it wasn’t. Christ came quietly into the world and went about serving humbling, and without judgment or an “agenda”. Whatever prompts you to decide what your mission in life is, go and do that good! Best to Rocky, Steve and may many be inspired by the film! You have my admiration for a story well told and lives well-lived. Carry on.

  • None

    I saw the movie Blood Brother in February. I think it is interesting that it is getting backlash such as your article. Regardless of beliefs, here is someone out there doing his best to make the world a better place, why is anyone trying to defeat him? If he believes in Jesus and it fuels his heart to serve people in this capacity, let him. If kids decide they want to follow Jesus, because they have learned about his love from Rocky, let them. No one else is investing in their lives!

    At the end of the day, it wasn’t per say the movie that affected me, but Rocky’s example. Despite what anyone might think, finding a hidden agenda during that hospital scene seems like a pretty weak case. I don’t know if I would have the guts or emotional stability to endure that, nor could anyone else say that endless they have walked in those shoes. This article reminded me of Teddy Roosevelt’s Speech, Citizenship In A Republic. The well-known excerpt is below:

    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done
    them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs,who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at
    the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

  • JB

    There is always one. Let’s trash the first artfully made, compassionate and hauntingly beautiful film that had no agenda other than showcasing a story that made you think outside yourself. I din’t even know the guys were “Christians” until this attack. So now we rip apart crap like Fireproof (agenda driven crap for trying to win/make converts) and now solid works of art like Blood Brother. No one can win I guess. Yes, shame on you Steve for making a great piece that united human kind and made us think of others … so crafty with your hidden “Christian” agenda. Tom, you are the one with the agenda and a bone to pick. More negative crap on the internet spewed as fact when really it’s all just assumptions you are making about something you know about, not something you know.

  • Josh Miller

    Dear Mr. Roston, if the result of Rocky’s faith is that forgotten, suffering children have someone who cares for them, loves them, and gives them hope – wouldn’t we want that kind of faith to spread so that more suffering children were cared for?

  • John Malutinok

    I’d classify this as a “cheap shot” article. Your impeccable investigative skills revealed that Hoover has a faith and belongs to a church-one that he does not disclaim. The implicit tone here is that of an expose gotcha piece. It is unsavory, mistaken, and elitist. You seem to believe that strong faith is dispositive of good work. I don’t understand that position.

    In leaving the details of his life out of the films he makes, Hoover follows in a line of non-realist artists who frame their art deliberately and with intention-certainly a strength of the film.

    Ernest Hemingway was a depressed, alcoholic, masochist and I’m in love with his work. It stands alone. Is it influenced by his life? Absolutely. Do his struggles characterize his work? To a point, sure. Is everything that happened in his life in his work? Metaphorically maybe but factually, no. Let the artist frame his work how he prefers. Making exceptions when it comes to faith starts to look prejudicial, and is certainly unfair.

    This was a disappointing commentary on an excellent film. Here is a filmmaker who seeks to bring relief to a suffering people under the banner of his faith. If he confronts the viewer with anything, it is not his personal beliefs; it is the poverty the protagonist is faced with. In looking to find something wrong with that, you’ve come up short.

    • Paul

      John, that is an extremely elegant and neutral response. Thanks for the clarity.

    • Tom Wilcox

      Well put.

  • Paul

    This rambling article is deeply offensive and paranoid. Enough said.

  • Stan B

    As Steve says in his article, I don’t think Tom wrote this to be a jerk. He asks questions that Steve felt the need to answer, but that doesn’t make Tom an SS officer! Let’s keep this civil.

    • Paul

      Take a look at the gist of the comments here, Stan. The P.O.V. DocSoup blog is the farthest thing from a magnet for the religious right (and it’s not like the Drudge Report linked to it). At a certain point, cream floats to the top — and wasteful residue sinks to the bottom.

  • Exetarian

    Honestly, since when is missionary work nefarious? Whether someone does charitable work for secular or sectarian reasons, it ought not matter. Those who seek to convert others to a faith aren’t doing so as part of some scheme… it’s part and parcel of a desire to improve their lives. So what?

  • Guest

    Hey, Tom! I appreciate you taking the time to dive deeper into the topics and themes presented in Blood Brother. A few responses to your article. I’m not sure that I find the conclusions you’ve drawn by delving into the filmmaker’s background altogether valid. I would imagine that someone could read back through all of the articles and blog posts you’ve published, then do some research on the professors you studied under at Brown University, and then draw specific conclusions about an agenda you may be advancing. I think it’s fair to explore the ways that a filmmaker’s or writer’s educational, familial, or spiritual backgrounds may influence their work, but that it’s a stretch to conclude any one specific part of an artist’s background leading to a secret agenda being advanced through their work. Should I assume that every filmmaker and writer is attempting to advance an agenda simply because they’ve been impacted and shaped by educational, familial, or spiritual influences? One of the things that I believe makes Blood Brother an intriguing film is that it clearly presents human suffering and a human attempt to selflessly love others in ways that don’t immediately align with our pre-existing categories. The human suffering and selfless love presented are difficult to internalize because we don’t often see suffering and we don’t often see selfless love. So, we watch a film like Blood Brother and we try to fit it into our pre-existing categories rather unsuccessfully. Which, I think, leads to two different potential responses: 1) we seek to enlarge our understanding and create new categories, or 2) we try harder to find the proper category in which to place the film and its themes. It’s easier to opt for the second response. If we choose the second response, I think we end up with your article. Rather than having to seek to enlarge our understanding and create new categories for suffering and selfless love, we can choose to dismiss the film as secretive Christian propaganda. However, as I’ve watched the film with people who seek to model their lives after Jesus they’ve wondered aloud about the subject’s and filmmakers’ spiritual background, unable to draw the specific conclusions that you have.

  • Dennis Allan

    Hey, Tom! I appreciate you taking the time to dive deeper into the topics and themes presented in Blood Brother. A few responses to your article. It seems like you stretched quite a bit by delving into the filmmaker’s background and then seeking to draw specific conclusions from it. I would imagine that someone could read back through all of the articles and blog posts you’ve published, then do some research on the professors you studied under at Brown University, and then draw specific conclusions about an agenda you may be advancing. I think it’s fair to explore the ways that a filmmaker’s or writer’s educational, familial, or spiritual backgrounds may influence their work, but that it’s a stretch to conclude any one specific part of an artist’s background leading to a secret agenda being advanced through their work. Should I assume that every filmmaker and writer is attempting to advance an agenda simply because they’ve been impacted and shaped by educational, familial, or spiritual influences? One of the things that I believe makes Blood Brother an intriguing film is that it clearly presents human suffering and a human attempt to selflessly love others in ways that don’t immediately align with our pre-existing categories. The human suffering and selfless love presented are difficult to internalize because we don’t often see suffering and we don’t often see selfless love. So, we watch a film like Blood Brother and we try to fit it into our pre-existing categories rather unsuccessfully. Which, I think, leads to two different potential responses: 1) we seek to enlarge our understanding and create new categories, or 2) we try harder to find the proper category in which to place the film and its themes. It’s easier to opt for the second response. If we choose the second response, I think we end up with your article. Rather than having to seek to enlarge our understanding and create new categories for suffering and selfless love, we can choose to dismiss the film as secretive Christian propaganda. However, as I’ve watched the film with people who seek to model their lives after Jesus they’ve wondered aloud about the subject’s and filmmakers’ spiritual background, unable to draw the specific conclusions that you have.

  • FB

    The director posted a reaction to this article: http://www.bloodbrotherfilm.com/blog-post/open-letter-from-blood-brother-director-steve-hoover/

    Also, came across this interview from Sundance where they explain some things: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hKSQv9vf9g. He says that his motive on the first trip was photography, which isn’t mentioned in the film. He does mention wanting to go to the Home of the Dying in the film. He said he was looking for raw material to take photos, maybe a bit selfish and exploitive, but I get it. He also says he was going to leave the orphanage but chose not to, which wasn’t mentioned in the film either. He describes any spiritual ambition as a “soft motive”. I’ve also read elsewhere in interviews that there were additional reasons for his trip. All of them are entirely different from his reason for moving, which he says was to create family with the kids. Overall, that first trip seemed to be greatly summed up in the film. It doesn’t bother me, especially seeing how layered it is. What seems most important is that he met them and it wasn’t his plan.

  • Sathya

    Dear Tom Roston! I personally & along with my family have been involved with the orphanage & known Rocky. All that is shown in the film are authentic & no hidden facts hence I would invite you to visit India & this orphanage.Please do not sit so far away & try to connect dots BUT experience the reality.

  • Tracy

    Tom, I reevaluated those and was able to find them. But I still have a problem because you make them out to be so negative but in reality- when looked at with scripture, those are perfectly relevant statements. I would challenge you to take a deeper look. Food for thought.

  • none

    I just watch a CNN doc, An Unreal Dream, about a man wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife and was acquitted after serving 25 years in prison. This man, Michael Morton, pleaded with a judge to be gentle on the prosecutor, who put him away, that was now being sentenced for contempt of court for intentionally hiding mitigating evidence, evidence that would have cleared Mr. Morton back in 1987. Why was he so full of mercy towards the man that took away his freedom? Mr. Morton said, that his time in prison afforded him countless hours to self-reflect – allowing him to see all the hurt he has caused others, ALL the wrong he had done in his life. He was able to truly see himself and saw that as a gift. He said the three most important things he learned in prison were:
    God exists.
    God is wise, much wiser than me.
    God loves me (stated with a grin exuding satisfaction).
    There were testimonials from inmates that were touched by his kindness and convicted by his integrity. When he left prison, the whole place cheered for him (in their own prison-ee kind of way). His faith made an huge impact those around him. It was a truly inspiring tale but I doubt that CNN was trying to convert anyone.

    I just watched Blood Brothers earlier this evening and what I saw was a man who met his kinfolk in those children. He saw his childhood pain in their eyes: rejection, abandonment, physical suffering…
    Maybe it is healing to heal others.
    Maybe that’s why his Christian friends, who were from great families, now seemed a bit more distant, foreign to him. Maybe he felt like an alien around them; maybe is was…Maybe that’s why his friend Steve just can’t get him, and never will.
    Because no matter how much you may want to, even to the point of traveling half way around the world, you can’t walk in someone’s shoe’s unless you’ve walked in their shoes. There are some bonds that only suffering creates. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be brothers, just not blood brothers.
    Maybe Rocky felt a bit like an ugly duckling all his life and he finally came to realize he was alway a beautiful swan – he was always beautiful.
    Maybe that’s what this tale is about. Maybe.

  • none

    I just watch a CNN doc, An Unreal Dream, about a man wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife and was acquitted after serving 25 years in prison. This man, Michael Morton, pleaded with a judge to be gentle on the prosecutor, who put him away, who was now being sentenced for contempt of court for intentionally hiding mitigating evidence, evidence that would have cleared Mr. Morton back in 1987. Why was he so full of mercy towards the man that took away his freedom? Mr. Morton said, that his time in prison afforded him countless hours to self-reflect – allowing him to see all the hurt he has caused others, ALL the wrong he had done in his life. He was able to truly see himself and saw that as a gift. He said the three most important things he learned in prison were:
    God exists.
    God is wise, much wiser than himself
    God loves him (stated with a grin exuding satisfaction).
    There were testimonials from inmates that were touched by his kindness and convicted by his integrity. When he left prison, the whole place cheered for him (in their own prison-ee kind of way). His faith made a huge impact on those around him. It was a truly inspiring tale but I doubt that CNN was trying to convert anyone.

    I just watched Blood Brothers earlier this evening and what I saw was a man who met his kinfolk in those children. He saw his childhood pain in their eyes: rejection, abandonment, physical suffering… [Maybe it's healing to heal others].
    Maybe that’s why his Christian friends, who were from great families, now seemed a bit more distant and even foreign to him. Maybe he felt like an alien around them when they talked about their awesome dads…stuff like that. Maybe that’s why his friend Steve, just can’t get him and never will.
    Because no matter how much you may want to, even to the point of traveling half way around the world, you can’t walk in someone’s shoe’s unless you’ve walked in their shoes. There are some bonds that only suffering creates. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be brothers, just not blood brothers.
    Maybe Rocky felt a bit like an ugly duckling all his life and, in his encounter with these special children, he finally came to realize that he, was actually a beautiful swan – he was always beautiful.
    Maybe that’s what this tale is about. Maybe.

  • David

    I don’t understand the emphasis on the director. To me it pales in comparison to the potential misrepresentation of Rocky. If Rocky is there in any significant part to teach children that Jesus died for their sins and to provide them with an alternative to eternal damnation, I think viewers have a right to know that. Of course the friendship and love he is providing these kids is still valuable, but lots of secular viewers will have strong and in my opinion justified objections to evangelizing to children. If that is misrepresented, I think it is a serious problem with the documentary. I would love to know if Rocky has responded to any of this or clarified whether he is witnessing to these children.

  • KingP

    Mr. Roston, you are indeed made of stern stuff. Personally, although I am a perpetual skeptic and smartass, could never harbor much suspicion against a guy who is even simply depicted as cleaning the sores of a forgotten kid suffering from the effects of HIV infection. Be he wingnut evangelical, Islamist, Jew or even skinhead, the guy gets a pass.

    Which brings to mind a question, what would your opinion be of a similar figure who was an ethnic hindu, agnostic, or perhaps even an activist African American Christian of the inner-city variety (a subject holding perpetual fascination for many doc filmmakers)?

    • Simon Peter

      Tru dat KingP – Would Roston mind if Rocky was a Jew?

  • KCgirl

    Just watched this documentary, and googled it because something felt like it was missing. I kept waiting for the narrator to tie the whole thing in to Jesus, and it never happened. Seemed like a glaring oversight. Those boys were totally on some God mission. Found your blog, and everything made so much more sense. It makes me sad to hear that they may be converting the children. Seems like easy prey. I don’t know if Rocky is the person he seems to be in real life. His zealousness in treating the sick without protection of gloves and masks is incredibly risky, and made me uncomfortable for his health, and that of his wife. If he continues in this work ,I hope he takes his good health, itself a gift from God, for those who believe in God, more seriously.

    • cclo

      The fact that he is a christian seems totally irrelevant. There are millions of christians on this planet, yet so few who would sacrifice their own comforts and selflessly set aside their own needs to help others in this way. He is a special and unique young man on the far end of the bell curve for compassion. I find it so sad that you, Tom Roston, or anyone else would feel the need to find a hidden agenda. Is it really so hard to believe that someone can be altruistic? Perhaps for some people it is made especially disturbing when they find it so elusive in themselves. Just luck of the draw I guess.

  • Phil

    Tom,

    Get back to me when you’ve spent any amount of time cleaning the sores on hopeless child’s eyes. My guess is that your point of view will be less cynical and more compassionate. Regardless of religious affiliation, it’s the work with the children that matters, work that very few people are willing to commit their lives to doing.
    Are you willing, Tom?

  • Y

    I think this article was interesting. Honestly, I would have liked to hear more about their beliefs in the film; nevertheless, the fact that the children were motivated to become Christians based on the love Rocky showed, doesn’t mean that he was preaching to them. Our lives preach all the time without words, whatever the message may be (religious or not). Moreover, I would rather learn true Christianity from someone living like Jesus as Rocky did, than from someone whose religion and life don’t match up. Also, I went on the church’s website and read what this article quoted regarding evangelism, etc. It is only part of what is said; therefore, listing it as an individual statement depicts the church’s beliefs and goals out of context.
    I don’t think you were trying to badmouth the film, but maybe it was read into a bit much by making the film about ulterior motives (had they been there or not). I for one, am glad that a Christian is trying to live love for people (which he did not do because there would be a film made about it one day; he’s not a film kind of guy from what the movie shows) – rather than not walking the talk. That’s inspiring. Maybe try to see the movie one more time without a journalist lens. One day, on your own, as just Tom. I would love to know what you think.

  • Dan MacGillivray

    I find it odd Tom that you would desire to “get to the bottom” of Hoover’s intentions of making the film. As if to say that Christianity (because of current or past evangelistic outreach into the developing world) some how makes the love and compassion that comes across in the film invalid. If Hoover’s or Braat’s faith are indeed relevant in the discussion of this film, does that mean the care and love they gave and Rocky continues to give is underhanded and deceitful? I guess your quest to seek out their true intentions is nothing short of sad. You’ve managed to take an amazing story of sacrifice, suffering and love and turn it into an evangelical witch hunt.

  • Gregory T.

    I was at a Q&A and this came up. The money isn’t going to any religious org. It’s a new non-profit that will provide halfway housing to the kids when they age out, help give them education and support when they become independent. Also profits from the film are going to a couple diff aids org’s iirc.

  • Tom Roston

    My understanding is that the money goes to LIGHT which basically is set up to fund Braat’s work in India. Whether that makes it a religious org or not, is not clear. Or maybe it’s open to interpretation. The same goes for if it goes to a halfway home run by Tomol and Lombardi, as noted in the piece.

  • Rocky Braat

    Hi Tom, to answer the questions on funding whenever I see a need on the children I do all i can to meet it. We have sponsored some older children to go to higher studies. I employ one of the kids who aged out, who is to weak to work a regular Indian job. We have paid for people funerals, Sponsor food, clean water, Medication. Even to this day I still live in the same house. I just want to help people and I do my best to make sure the funds hit the beneficiary not some Organization. Anything I have bought for myself other then food rent and my 50 dollar phone bill comes from my book royalties. I hope that helps.

  • Todd

    Lisa, I would like to respond only to one aspect of your post, also hoping others will read this as well. I agree that it would be very important to know if “evangelism” was a core motivator in Rocky’s move to India.

    That said, I think we can dismiss “evangelism” as his motivation for going back and staying. I think we can make a direct comparison to Mother Terisa. As Tom pointed out, no one questions her motivation. I think it is safe to say that mother Terisa preached about Jesus to the people she served. That does not mean she served them so that she could preach. She genuinely loved and cared for them. That is why she was there. Her faith drove her to love. Her love drove her to serve. Her service proved her to be different and drew people to ask what makes her different. Why would she forgo her own comfort to serve someone she didn’t know.

    The same could be said of Rocky. I find it hard to believe that anyone would sit in that hospital for 4 months, if their only agenda was to get “one more convert notch on their belt”. But I can see mother Terisa doing it because she genuinely love that child. I saw nothing but love in that one act. Can Rocky be that

  • sam

    “Show the world the fruits of Christianity and they will applaud. Show them Christianity and they will attack” .