One man, one movie (Blood Brother) can make a difference

Written by Barbara Vancheri on .

Some photos from the Sundance Film Festival with Rocky Braat, the subject of “Blood Brother” made by Pittsburghers Steve Hoover and Danny Yourd (among others) and winner of two big prizes. Rocky is above, holding award, with Hoover. 
Some Pittsburghers got a sneak preview of an early version of the movie back in September at the Byham Theater. It had its official premiere at Sundance where it won over the audience and the judges.
Some background from a PG story in September: 
No less a filmmaker than Morgan Spurlock has weighed in on “Blood Brother”: “A truly beautiful film about the power of love.”
It’s the story of Rocky Braat, a onetime resident of Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, and Pittsburgh. Drifting through India, he lands at an orphanage for children with HIV and AIDS.
“I can’t take any of them out of that situation but I can put myself into it. Then I made a decision, man, I need to move there,”  Braat says in the trailer.
In the workaday world, he was making money but he thought, “If I died, I wasn’t making an impact on anything -- really.” In India, he found a calling, a sense of purpose and a chance to make a difference.
The film, nearly three years in the making, started with Steve Hoover, who became its director.
“We are all friends with Rocky, aka Blood Brother,” said producer Danny Yourd, sitting in the offices of Downtown agency Animal Media Group where he and  Hoover work. “We all went to the Art Institute, and Steve and Rocky were roommates for eight years, living in a pretty small hole in the wall on Bates Street in Oakland.
“Rocky went to India after he graduated, just to travel around with a friend and through a series of events ended up kind of falling in love with India. He came back here for a year, worked, sold everything he owned and moved there,” with a suitcase full of toys.
He gave up a promising career as a graphic designer and photographer to help at an orphanage an hour south of Chennai. After repeated invites,  Hoover decided to go to India and make a documentary about Rocky, inspired in part by two years’ worth of blog postings and evocative, emotional photographs, many collected in a new, oversize book, “I Was Always Beautiful.”
“The orphanage is run by an organization. Rocky is not employed by anyone or anything; he lives off of donations of friends,” says Hoover.
A friend has started a 501(c)(3) charitable organization to direct proceeds from the book and film to help the children and villagers, perhaps with educational expenses or a halfway home for those who age out.
Roughly $15,000 for travel expenses for a crew of six was raised through kickstarter and, once in southeastern India, the filmmakers slept on the cement floor of Rocky’s hut in the center of the village for a month in early 2011.  Hoover returned in October 2011 for another 20 days.
“The entire project was funded through donations. Up until now, the completion of the project, we have no debt, we have no overhead costs, nobody to pay back. ... From the start, we’d had no interest in a financial gain from this film. In turn, we wanted to put all the money toward charity, toward helping Rocky and helping the kids,”  Yourd said.
That will hold true if the film, currently 97 minutes molded from more than 10 terabytes of raw material, lands a distributor or turns a profit. Every now and then, one of the orphans would slip his or her hand through the brace of a camera and slide it out of the professional’s hands and walk away to do his own recording.
“This is our way of just saying thank-you to everybody for the support. It’s our hometown and we want to share it and show people a little preview of the film,”  Yourd said.
“We had hundreds of people helping, whether it was donating a microphone or donating money to help toward production. It’s just been a really encouraging process to have all these people generous enough to believe in the project and the story without knowing much about Rocky and what we were doing.”
The director and others call the experience eye-opening.
“It really struck a chord in us personally, just to see a human being who is a young, very talented, handsome guy who really could do whatever he wanted to do with his life. In our very superficial advertising world that we live in, day after day, to see someone do something so pure,” said Kathy Dziubek, a partner in Animal and co-executive producer of the film.
 Braat will be at today’s showing and the filmmakers hope to keep the momentum going by launching a YouTube channel to continue to tell the stories of the children.
“The kids are so inspiring,” Ms. Dziubek said. “The first time I met Rocky, he was on Skype with the kids and they were just, ‘Are you OK? Are you happy? Are you happy?’ They were very concerned with his happiness and was he OK here. It moved me to tears, just listening to them. Oh my gosh, there are human beings who are this good in the world.”

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