City honors Sundance film festival winners

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Rocky Braat was on his way back to India, Robert Redford was nowhere on the premises and the key crew behind "Blood Brother" back at work at a Downtown agency.

But the ripple effects of their Sundance award-winning movie are just beginning to be felt as the filmmakers took a break Tuesday to be saluted on their home turf.

City Councilman Corey O'Connor declared it "Blood Brother Day" in the city and honored director Steve Hoover, producer Danny Yourd, editor-writer Tyson VanSkiver and others connected to the film.

'Blood Brother' filmmakers honored

City Council has honored the makers of "Blood Brother," a film that chronicles the work of an HIV/AIDS activist in India. (Video by Andrew Rush; 2/20/2013)

"It's great that it's a Pittsburgh company, Pittsburgh kids doing something that's pretty historic. I don't remember the last time a Pittsburgh group won the Sundance Film Festival and I'm a pretty big movie buff," Mr. O'Connor said after the proclamation ceremony.

Not only that, but the documentary dovetails with the introduction of a city HIV/AIDS commission, which had its first official meeting in January, when "Blood Brother" captured the grand jury prize and the audience award for U.S. documentaries.

It chronicles Mr. Braat trading life in America for India, where he works with children living at an orphanage for those infected with the AIDS virus.

"It proves what somebody with love and care and compassion can really do," the councilman said. "I think that's a good Pittsburgh story in and of itself. That's what we are; we care about each other."

Mr. Hoover, Rocky's best friend, is back working at Animal Inc., a production and visual effects studio Downtown. It produced the movie and employs most of the crew.

"I really didn't think we'd get into Sundance, let alone win awards at Sundance. It's amazing to see where it's come," Mr. Hoover said, with negotiations for distribution into theaters, on television and on-demand still in the works.

"It's such a mix of excitement, insecurity, hope, all these interesting emotions that just were kind of swirling about throughout the whole experience," he said of the festival in Park City, Utah.

After Mr. Hoover traveled to India and met the children, his impetus for the project changed from telling Rocky's story to funneling much-needed help to the children.

Sundance proved a supportive environment in every way, including for the man the Indian children call "Rocky Anna," which means brother. Strangers talked to Mr. Braat, who was there, about visiting or providing money, building assistance or toys.

All of the proceeds from the film will go to the orphanage, and people can buy a companion book or T-shirt, text a donation or assist in other ways by clicking on the "How to Help" tab at

Although "Blood Brother" has been mentioned as a possible 2013 Oscar contender, the early going was nerve-racking at Sundance. "We were sweating bullets. We were in the back room waiting for the screening, it felt like an eternity. I kept peeking my head out to see how the line looked," Mr. Yourd recalled on Tuesday.

"They didn't walk us in until right before the show started, and walking in there and seeing a packed theater -- there were no empty seats -- was incredible. It was probably the most emotional time" since the crew watched "Blood Brother" as a group, not knowing what to expect but being rewarded with applause and a standing ovation.

"It's as close as we'll ever get, I think, to watching the film for a first time," Mr. Yourd said. "Connecting with the audiences afterward and hearing what they thought, that was the most rewarding part of Sundance." And people got it.

"We wanted to share a film where we were able to deliver, as close as we could, how we felt in India to the audiences. Whether that's visually, emotionally, physically, whatever, and it seemed like the majority of people were able to take bits and pieces of that away."


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: First Published February 20, 2013 5:00 AM


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