Area man’s documentary wins at Sundance, helps others

Cambria Heights High School graduate Steve Hoover set out to tell a friend’s story in his first feature film, “Blood Brother.”

He and his film crew ended up snagging top honors at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and, with the film’s exposure, are helping make a difference in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

“Blood Brother,” the story of Hoover’s friend, Rocky Braat, who moved to India to care for HIV-positive orphans, won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary and the Audience award: U.S. Documentary at the January festival, held in Utah.

Hoover, 30, who graduated from Cambria Heights in 2001 and from the Art Institute in Pittsburgh in 2006, is a director at the production and visual-effects facility Animal, in Pittsburgh, where he lives with his wife.

No one associated with the film had any connections to get into Sundance, and they were just surprised and honored to be there, Hoover said.

Hoover’s other works include directing the music video for Owl City’s song “Fireflies,” his dad, Ray Hoover of Loretto, said.

Ray Hoover, and his wife, Carol, and Steve’s mom, Kathy Budicky and her husband, Paul, of Ebensburg, attended Sundance.

The story in his son’s film was touching, and he is very proud of him, Ray Hoover said. He saw his son’s talent emerging at art school.

“The whole purpose of this film is to generate money for the orphanage in India,” Ray Hoover said, “and the exposure they got at Sundance and other film festivals will hopefully allow them to do what they set out to do.”

Hoover met Braat while attending school in Pittsburgh.

“I made ‘Blood Brother’ simply to tell the story of my best friend. … As a boy, his mom was a drug addict with abusive boyfriends, and his father was a mystery to him until the age of 7,” Hoover said in a director’s statement. “Rocky had dreams of becoming a successful graphic designer, until one summer when he made an impromptu trip to India. He met a group of HIV/AIDS orphans while there and, to everyone’s surprise, decided to leave behind all he had accomplished in order to give them what he felt they deserved.”

The friends kept in touch, Hoover said.

Hoover always wanted to film a documentary, and he was curious in what way Braat’s decision was affecting him and why he decided to move to India, he said.

What Hoover learned about includes a lot about sacrifice and how “complex” and “unique” Braat is, he said.

Braat still lives in India as a volunteer in a rural village among the lowest class, the Living to Inspire Global Healing Today website said. The nonprofit organization was created in response to Braat and the film.

Current challenges include the children, who are living longer with the advancement of medicine, can only stay at the orphanage until a certain age by government mandate, the release said. The children face prejudice due to misinformation about their disease, which also limits their stamina, affecting how long they can work at a time.

The film, funded through donations, also has made ties with other organizations such as Arms Around the Child and Red Hot, the release said.

The goal is to spread the help, Hoover said.

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.