When was the last time you ever truly cared about anything, without reservation or sneaking self-interest? Young professionals scoff at their artistic peers — misguided idealists, they say. The good old days of a juggernaut economy fade as quickly as last night’s sweet dream. Who in their right mind would waste their 20s? They are, after all, the prime years for the creative class of people who find it their calling to make something. Not to mention the insidious feeling of reality intruding — there’s networking to be done!

Blood Brother, the debut documentary from director Steve Hoover, is the story of his best friend Rocky Braat. Hoover and Braat both grew up in Pittsburgh. They met at art school, where Braat was studying to be a graphic designer. While their lives have gone in radically different directions, this film is evidence of a symbiosis that comes about from the most honest kind of friendship.

Braat, like a shy, Caucasian Malcolm Little or Cassius Clay has been given a new patronymic — Anna. “Rocky Anna,” the children cheer as they climb atop him, not even trying to hold back their tears of joy at the mere sight of the man. “Anna” means brother, but Braat is much more — father, nursemaid; he is more to them than he ever was at home.

At first blush, Braat is quite appealing. To watch this handsome, slapstick man, you’d hardly think that anything was wrong. He cuts the cloth of a boilerplate, able-bodied, handsome millennial. And yet, Braat’s narrative is wrought with abandonment. His father left when he was quite young and his mother’s subsequent boyfriends were physically abusive. Braat reveals that he was frequently placed in special ed classes in school and desperately wanted to be popular.

Eschewing the chance at a life of a trendy graphic designer, Braat took a trip to India on a whim. He didn’t go with any pretense of nobility or lofty ideals of charity. On his first trip, he decided to visit an orphanage for those infected with HIV. It was supposed to be a day trip, where he would feel things and most likely cry; a cathartic experience but not more. After this trip though, he found that he could not stay away. He has been making frequent trips back, living a kind of monastic existence, deprived of even the basic luxuries he would have at home like toilets and kale juice. He abandoned his friends, everyone and everything he knew in America, only occasionally Skyping with them in order to be with the kids.

How many people daydream, absently toggling between Gawker and The Atlantic while their boss looks away, of a life worth living? Must we live in a society where abstract work as a means of survival takes up most of the time in our day? Blood Brother is a documentation of compassion. The sight of little children unable to speak because the bleeding sores covering their mouths are too painful and humiliating will bring even the most cynical to tears, if only for a moment. But the film is also the story of someone who opted out.

Hoover was kind enough to give us an interview. Below you will discover his insight into the moral quandaries that come up in the film, an examination of his friendship with Braat, and his advice to hopeful future filmmakers.

GALO: Before he began his journey, Rocky seemed quite lost. He really could have gone anywhere. Why do you think Rocky chose to travel to India specifically?

Steve Hoover: I’ve never gotten one specific answer from him about why he chose India. Really, it was a mix of reasons. Around the time of his first trip, he was just getting into photography. He had a goal to shoot 100 photos a day, which he did in Pittsburgh. He was definitely attracted to the visual richness that India offers as he’s jokingly said, “I wanted to be Mr. National Geographic.” But he cites a few other reasons as well. He said he wanted to have authentic experiences; things he couldn’t do here, which I believe motivated his desire to want go to Kalighat, to have interactions with people that were close to death.

I think India seemed like a great adventure to him as well. In the past, Rocky has flown out west just to rent a car to drive deep into Death Valley where he would park and walk for days. He almost moved to Alaska, lived in L.A., Arizona and on the road before ever going to India. It’s something about him that I never connected with in our friendship. Which is why I didn’t go with him on any of those trips. Since he bought a one-way ticket to India that summer, I think he was on another adventure. He loves big experiences. And like people from many different beliefs, I also think he felt India might have had something to offer him spiritually. I didn’t have time in the film to expound on all of this so I asked him to sum it up, which is when he said he was seeking authenticity. But he definitely wasn’t looking for a new home. The one-way ticket was purchased because he had no idea in which region his trip would end. I eventually traveled around India myself and met many people like Rocky along the way, tourists. Northern India attracts this type of adventurer and they all have a camera in hand. It should be noted that Rocky took his first trip with a friend, who I’m sure had an influence on the trip as well.

Video Courtesy of: Blood Brother.

GALO: Is Rocky a religious person? He speaks about God in the film.

SH: Rocky’s faith is definitely something that has gotten him through a lot in his life. I did feel it was important to communicate that about Rocky, because it’s a part of him, but I was more interested in how his broken relationships with his family affect his relationships with his “new family” in India.

GALO: Was Rocky a very social person in the U.S.? It says in the film that he relies mainly on donations from friends, so I imagine he must maintain some close friendships with people back home to keep the funding up. I know that the proceeds of the film are in part going toward keeping Rocky there but, initially, he must have needed some capital.

SH: Rocky has been an extrovert for as long as I’ve known him. When he returned from his first trip to India (self-funded), it was then that he made the decision that he would move there. He saved for a year and sold everything he had, which created the base of what he needed to financially restart his life in India. From there, he approached a handful of different friends and a relative who committed to helping him financially. He would use social media to express different needs from time to time as well and to stay connected to those that were giving him small amounts of money. His expenses in India are minimal, the greatest being his student loan. Anything extra, he pours into various needs that come up.

(Interview continued on next page)