Fred Rogers, once said that our greatest challenge was to "try and make good attractive." He would be truly proud today of some young men from his hometown as headlines across the world read Blood Brother wins Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for Best Documentary at Sundance. The film is a Rocky underdog story, but one with a spiritual twist whose entire aim from the beginning was to amplify good in the world, as the film follows Rocky Braat, a young man from Pittsburgh who took a different path, heading to India where his journey and those of a group of young children with HIV, became entwined, and in so doing, thanks to the masterful work of some fellow Pittsburghers who documented his experience, will hopefully now inspire millions. And for those of us in Pittsburgh, the story is even more remarkable.
I first became aware of the film that would become Blood Brother a couple of years ago when visiting the downtown offices of Michael Killen, another Pittsburgher who had come back here after a career in L.A. to open up ANIMAL, an extraordinarily creative media firm which has done award winning national work which got early attention for making the Taco Bell Chihuaua talk. (see http://animalvfx.com) Michael is a big believer in Pittsburgh talent and on my visit, he introduced me to a couple of recent graduates from the Art Institute, Steve Hoover and Danny Yourd. They were packing a bag with film equipment as they mentioned off-handedly, that Steve was on his way to India to visit their fellow Art Institute grad, Rocky Braat, who had left Pittsburgh to go work at an orphanage where all the children were HIV positive. It was one of those sentences that seemed larger than one could absorb, and, though one could sense their passion, they said it with this casualness, as if they were going to an away Steelers game, that seemed to belie the intensity of this endeavor.
Cut to a year later, when I was visiting Michael and his colleague Kathy Dziubekas as Steve was editing the footage they had gathered. You could tell with each frame how this was something special. The story of Blood Brother is a story of selflessness, of friendship, of how caring can be infectious. We all know that there are sad stories that happen every day on the planet, and can feel so helpless, but here Rocky was caring about these kids who had become his family. I don’t want to say too much as it seems inevitable that soon this story which inspired the audience at Sundance will be inspiring many, many others. (You can see the trailer at www.bloodbrotherfilm.com)
But as Steve struggled to pull the many hours of footage together into a compelling two hour movie, Michael, who serves as executive producer of film, urged him to put his own personal point of view into the film. Steve, who was never in this for his own fame, but to tell this important story from the heart, eventually lent his narration to the movie and the story of his own friendship with Rocky, which is one of the things that gives the movie its power and intimacy. All movies are challenging, but it is even more so with independent documentaries which don't have the huge budgets of Hollywood productions. But with Steve, who serves as director of the film, focused on the editing and Danny as the unrelentingly determined producer, the film began to take shape. Last Spring, we had the privilege of showing an early trailer of Blood Brother at one of our Steeltown Film Factory events and people could tell then that something special was going on. Steve and Danny, who have remained humble throughout, were amazed themselves to discover the film was accepted to Sundance. They even used a kickstarter campaign to get the funds to get themselves and Rocky to Sundance-- which was somehow fitting in that it allowed others to be part of this journey. And then, a few days ago, I saw a facebook post from Danny about how this story, made in Pittsburgh and India, had received a standing ovation at its premiere at Sundance. It is amazing how far one's heart and dreams can take you.
It has been a truly impressive past year in film for Pittsburgh with big headlines about Dark Knight, Jack Reacher, and Promised Land shooting here. But this small film, made lovingly by talented people in Pittsburgh, should remind us all what is possible. And if all this is not enough, Steve and Danny have been using all the attention they have been getting for this film to help Rocky's mission.
See the Blood Brother trailer here:
Read the rave Variety review here:
About the Sundance win here:
For more on the film, see the PG's Barb Vacheri's preview of it last September:
And learn how to help Rocky's mission, go to: