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Brothers in arms
A restless American youth walks into an Indian orphanage for children with AIDS and decides to stay on. 'Blood Brother' documents his story.
Rocky Braat, 30, came to India with a one-way ticket. One of his primary objectives was to visit Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying in Kolkata. But a wrong ticket landed him at a hostel for AIDS orphans close to Chennai. The tragic state of the thirty children in the orphanage gave meaning to the life of this disenchanted American youth, who was, till then, stumbling through cities and countries, looking for purpose.
Braat's life-trajectory from a promising American graphic designer to a volunteer at the AIDS home in Chennai has been made into a film called Blood Brother by his best friend, Steve Hoover. The film is currently in post-production. Hoover is Braat's friend from art school in Pittsburgh and an established commercial and music video director.
"He wasn't necessarily unhappy, just really not interested in living an average life, " says Hoover of his friend. He went to college, got a good degree and held several good jobs in graphic design, doing what most people assume we should do - get a job, make money and live. But in a lot of ways he just kind of looked through those things, " says Hoover, in an email interview. Braat was unavailable for any comment as he rarely checks email and does not have a phone.
But initially, Hoover did not take to Braat's move continents away very well. "I was initially bummed out because he's my closest friend and I think I had always envisioned us sticking close together geographically. I pictured our kids being friends. The other times he left I kind of knew he would come back, but this time I could tell it was different, " says Hoover.
Hoover didn't understand his friend's motivation, so he came to India to figure out what had him hooked and shoot a documentary. The trailer, which released in February, won a gold medal at the Addy Awards. In the trailer, we can see the understandable roller-coaster of emotions that anyone who has worked with AIDS-afflicted children would go through. "People in their lives were always in and out. I can't take anyone out of that situation but I can put myself in it. I am going to be suffering all the time - mentally, physically, and spiritually. I didn't even like being close to people. There is a freedom in not being close to people. There is something fragile and unstable in losing people you were planning to love long-term, " says Braat in the documentary.
The film, shot in India and the US, was funded through Kickstarter, a funding platform for creative projects and a small contribution from Hoover's personal savings. Hoover and his crew stayed with Braat, in his one room, concrete flat, lived and ate with the folks in the villages, slept in the slums and on the floors of the government-funded TB hospitals. Hoover called the immersion necessary and a blessing.
Shooting intensely personal situations such as last goodbyes and the acceptance of an end can be intrusive or seen as exploitation. None of the crew members wanted that. "I believe the hopeful will outweigh the heartbreaking. My ultimate goal is to inspire people, I don't want to depress or discourage people. I want to show them how an ordinary, unlikely person can make an incredible difference...practically, without having people notice or care. The content is heavy and real, but I don't want people to feel guilty and judge where they stand in relation to the story, " says Hoover.
Braat also raises funds to live on his own through his own website, blog and photos. Hoover wants the proceeds from the film to fund Braat's desire to build two halfway homes for the boys and girls once they reach age 15, at which point they are supposed to exit the home and live on their own. The homes would serve as a transitional home with subsidised rent. The children will learn life skills and be able to stay together as they continue to grow up together.
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