Sundance London Interview: Steve Hooper Q&A (Blood Brother) Print
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 28 April 2013 22:04
Blood Brother - Documentary - Film Review

Well, Sundance London has finished and after another run of sold out screenings, it's nice to see audiences connecting with indie film - despite the expensive ticket prices.

But one film that will really stick with me is Blood Brother. Steve Hooper's documentary about his friend, Rocky, who moved to India to help at an orphanage for kids with HIV, raised a lot of questions - from the ethics of making the film to the children themselves.

So, in case you've also seen the film and have a few niggling questions yourself, here's what Steve had to say in a fascinating Q&A after the screening.

How did Rocky get involved with orphanage? Do they employ him?

Rocky's not paid by the orphanage or anything. He lives off donations. Before he moved to India, he asked friends would they donate $20 dollars to him, so every now and then he gets more than enough money for him to live. Everybody who works on the film, we're not making any money. Anything we would would make goes towards the efforts and to other HIV efforts.

There are some really harrowing, personal moments in the movie. Did you find it hard to decide when to film and when to turn off the camera?

Yeah, absolutely. There were times, especially when we stumbled across events, where you question whether it's ok. Whether you should be filming. Like with Surya in the hospital. I learned several days after - we taught some of the boys how use the cameras - that one of the boys had shown Surya the footage and Surya got really depressed because he hadn't seen how bad he looked. That's why Rocky is trying to encourage him like that. It plays on you. Is it appropriate or not? Then afterwards, how do we handle these situation with respect? How do we not exploit this? We took a lot of advice to make sure that wouldn't happen.

How did you find yourself affected by your visit to the orphanage?

I was really impacted after the first time. Spending time in this situations, it was hard to adjust back. I live in Pittsburgh, which can be pretty bleak! I got form these beautiful locations where I have these vibrant relationships and kids and things are exciting and unpredictable… to my 9-5 job. It's cold. It's snowing. But I have these relationships and I stay in touch with them. My wife and I have 10-year visas so we can hopefully go back any time.

Rocky's very hands-on with the kids. Did you find it tough to let go of any inhibitions you may have had?

I would say yeah. There's always that sense of self-preservation. But there'st he fight to get past that. The more I learned, the more I watched Rocky, the more I got past it. The education helped with that.

Has the documentary changed you as a filmmaker as well as a person?

It changed me in a lot of ways. Before going to India, my only connection to AIDs was through Rocky. I didn't really engage with it, I didn't understand it. So meeting the kids, that was the first I'd ever come into contact with poverty as well, so that made me grateful for a lot of things I had, but more than that made me concerned for them - and made me want to use my talents to help. A lot of things I do for my job is commercials, I try to make things look cool so people buy them, so doing something like this feels more real. I want to continue doing that. Even if I keep doing my job, I want to find outlets where I can use my talents to help.

Has Rocky's family seen the film?

We did screen it for Rocky's family. After the film, they embraced and made up. His dad has a done 180 - he's really proud of Rocky and he's communicated that to Rocky. He wants eventually to go and visit. His sister has always had an affection for Rocky, but she's hard to get in touch with. She was very moved by it.

What about Rocky? How did he react to seeing it?

I didn't show him the film until it was a final cut - I didn't want him to have any influence on it. I know Rocky - he'd be insecure about how he looked in a certain scene! But he trusted me. That was one great access I had as his friend, so he trusted me not to do something crazy. He was moved. There were scenes that were really hard for him to watch - at times, he'd be like "Man, I don't' know that guy" - but he was deeply moved. He's seen it several times. The family stuff was hard, especially watching it with his family, he was terrified.

How has he reacted to the reaction to the film?

It's interesting. Because he still lives in the village. He was in Sundance in Utah with us and I think he took it well. He has a good head on his shoulders. He knows that when the hype blows over, he'll still be there. In some ways, he's pretty isolated from it. But he was able to benefit from it; we've been able to get him help. We have plans to build halfway homes for these kids, who have to leave the orphanage at a certain age. Then we want to start small businesses that they can run that don't deplete their health. He's very happy and excited about it.