Blood Brother: Sundance 2013

By Natalia Lusinski · January 31, 2013

If you want to see the epitome of love, see this documentary by Steve Hoover. (But be prepared to cry at least a dozen times.)

When Rocky (Hoover’s best friend) leaves America to start a new life in India, he has no idea what to expect. One day, he visits an orphanage for children with HIV, but he does not have plans to stay there. However, the kids’ excitement lures Rocky in and soon a day becomes several months, then a few years. Rocky tries to return to The States, in between waiting for a new visa to go back to India, but he doesn’t feel the same in America anymore, for India feels more like home. Not having grown up in a stable family, Rocky finds in India what he never found in America.

Unlike other visitors to the orphanage, Rocky treats the ill kids like kids, not like victims, not in fear that he will catch HIV from them. Basically, he treats them with love. Unconditional love. He plays with them, teaches them English, eats with them, puts them to bed, cares for them when they are sick… the list goes on and on. And he does it all for free, as a volunteer. (He had asked friends for donations to cover his low living expenses.) Rocky is charming throughout, and often funny, sometimes stern. He is human. Hoover does an excellent job at not just showing Rocky’s high points, but his low points, too — with the kids as well as his emotional state outside of the orphanage.

The original music, by Danny Bracken, A.J. Hochhalter, Keith Kenniff, Joseph Minadeo, and Wytold, and the editing, primarily by Hoover, are amazing, and assemble hundreds of pieces of Rocky’s journey (about ten or eleven terabytes of footage, according to Hoover) into a very succinct, moving narrative. I found it impressive that, at times, Rocky also shot some of the footage when Hoover couldn’t be there to do so, which makes this personal film even more touching, seeing true first-hand accounts of Rocky’s life in India, uncensored.

Several times while watching the film, I heard the whole theatre sniffling — not from the Sundance Sickness nearly everyone had, but from crying (men and women alike).

I saw Blood Brother in a packed Eccles Theatre, which seats 1,270, and it received a standing ovation. Hoover spoke afterwards, saying, “My whole worldview changed on the first trip [to India]… But being here [in Philadelphia] and realizing what we can do with filmmaking… it helps me to understand my place and my purpose in Rocky’s story.”

If nothing else, Blood Brother is an extraordinary lesson in love, connection, the human condition, and giving. And isn’t that what life is really all about?

Blood Brother won Sundance’s U.S. Grand Jury Prize for best documentary, as well as the Audience Award for U.S. Documentary.

Hoover also said that all money from the film will go to Arms Around the Child, a worldwide HIV initiative: And if you text “Rocky” to 80077, $10 will be donated to Rocky’s cause. Rocky also wrote a book about his experience in India, called I Was Always Beautiful.