Director: Steve Hoover
Writers: Phinehas Hodges, Steve Hoover, Tyson VanSkiver
Starring: Rocky Braat and Steve Hoover (Narrator)
Runtime: 92 min
Have you ever watched a piece of film and been rendered totally inarticulate at the end, just lost for words or any means to describe the experience you just had? Steve Hoover delivers such an experience through Blood Brother, a documentary film that explores the indescribable world of HIV/AIDS in India.
Blood Brother follows the story of Rocky Braat, an average Pittsburgh resident who dreams of becoming a graphic designer. One summer, he decides to make an impromptu trip to India, where he visits and befriends a group of HIV/AIDS orphans, an experience that will change him forever. He leaves the conveniences, achievements, and benefits of his American life behind, and goes to live in India with those he truly considers his family. The documentary is shot and narrated by Braat’s best friend Steve Hoover, who chronicles a part of Braat’s journey during one of his visits.
This film is not just a focus on the subject of HIV/AIDS; it is much, much more. It is a story of love, respect, family, dreams, friendships, and loyalty, among many other topics. It is a video diary of Rocky Braat’s adventure into India and his work with the children affected by HIV/AIDS. The story is crafted in such a way that HIV/AIDS becomes just a topic of discussion, with the focus placed on the power of relationships and how they can shape one’s path going forward. Hoover does a beautiful job of putting together this timeline of events that first places a focused spotlight on Braat and who he is, and then expands that light to bring together all the elements of his life, eventually putting the focus on the students who have changed his outlook. The story is fluid and understandable, and sparks one’s curiosity and interest almost immediately.
One element one has to respect about this film is its raw and uncut perspective. Sure, the subject of the film is being captured by a very close friend, but all the surrounding elements are given to the viewer the way that they truly are. In fact, one needs nerves of steel to really sit behind a screen and take in everything one is watching. Whether it is the death of a young child, a funeral with family and friends watching, or a child living the horrors of his out-of-control symptoms, you may initially wonder, “Why would Hoover capture that on camera?” before realizing that that’s how it is. That’s life for a person suffering, in pain and anguish all the time, living towards something that is inevitable. When you see Braat taking care of a child who’s symptoms nearly kill him, you understand the real meaning of humanity, something the documentary aims to convey from start to finish.
The simple thing is, we human beings live one life and should enjoy it, and this documentary captures precisely that feeling. It reveals the rough upbringing Braat had and the tough times the children at the orphanage go through, but the majority of the time an audience is enjoying the beautiful smiles these children share, the laughter Braat creates by engaging with them, and the simple concept of love and respect that every soul shares with another. This film looks away as much as possible from the bad things HIV/AIDS brings to a human being, and focuses on the happy times that most of us take for granted.
As a critic, I feel honourned to have watched such a simple, honest, and beautifully crafted documentary on a subject affecting millions around the world. Hoover has not looked at this endeavour as just another film project, but rather as an opportunity to live up to and not take for granted a friendship that spans over a decade. Yes, the film contains a number of disturbing images, something you have to think about before deciding to watch the film. However, if a truthful piece of film is what you want, you will find it within Blood Brother. Hoover steps into Braat’s shoes to capture and share the beauty of humanity, even when the core subject is as dark as HIV/AIDS.
Blood Brother is currently playing in the U.S., and all proceeds from the theatrical release will go directly to the orphanage in the film and other HIV/AIDS organizations. I certainly hope that fellow Canadians get another opportunity to see Blood Brother for the brilliant piece of film that it is (it played last at Hot Docs), not to mention that by watching this film one is directly supporting the cause of HIV/AIDS.