An orphanage for children with HIV and AIDS in India may have been viewed, by some, as a place to die, but it's become a place to live and even to help launch those who "age out."
"Blood Brother" sparked the creation of a nonprofit organization, staffed by volunteers, to directly help and support the work of Rocky Braat, a onetime Pittsburgher who moved to India five years ago, and the residents of other orphanages.
"We did a campaign to raise money for enough milk and eggs for the kids for a year. We were able to go over that, so we had connections to another HIV orphanage that we are basically working to support them through that, as well," director Steve Hoover said, with logistics being arranged to make that happen.
A benefactor recently donated a van to the orphanage, located an hour south of Chennai, to assist with trips to the hospital. "The one they had, which you see Rocky pushing in the film, was in really bad shape. It had been through a lot of wear and tear in India."
"Blood Brother" sparked generosity in other ways, from people providing dental or eye care or second-line medications for the children.
Mr. Braat, meanwhile, has been teaching the children photography for several years, and their talent is being put to good use.
"We spent money on gear -- cameras, lights, things like that. It might seem odd, like an odd trade, but it's actually a very competitive tool the kids show exceptional talent in and that they're able to use in the market. Just like here, they photograph everything and they travel, too. They just recently had their first professional job."
A teen who had aged out of the orphanage and was working in, essentially, a sweatshop making leather handbags now serves as Rocky's "right-hand man" to help run the business.
"His health was declining and the hours were really demanding and he wasn't getting paid well, so we basically were able to take him out of that job and employ him," Mr. Hoover said of the boy. "His health has greatly improved and he's being taken care of."
The nonprofit, called LIGHT (more details at www.bloodbrotherfilm.com), is designed to meet medical or other critical needs, including of villagers, and aims to "build bridges to give the kids futures." Boys "age out" of the orphanage at 15 and girls at 18, and many are underdeveloped due to HIV or AIDS.
Although the movie played and triumphed at the Sundance Film Festival, taking two top prizes, it had its official theatrical premiere in October. It played other festivals and is being distributed in the United States and overseas and will air (in a slightly shorter version) on PBS's "Independent Lens" Jan. 20. A DVD will be released Feb. 4.
Mr. Hoover, who appeared with the movie on the early festival circuit and in some of the bigger cities, said, "We get a lot of positive feedback, we get a lot of support, people have gone out of their way to do different fundraisers to send money to help.
"Different organizations have gotten behind the film and supported their own runs. That's kind of the beauty of the distribution model with Tugg," a Web platform that lets groups or moviegoers gather enough patrons to schedule a screening.
Next up for the "Blood Brother" filmmakers is "Gennadiy," a look at a man in Ukraine who uses unorthodox methods to rescue children from despair, drug use, homelessness and early death. They spent 20 days in Ukraine, have much work to do in translating the footage and hope to log one more trip overseas for follow-ups.
"I'm mostly interested in character-driven docs. 'Blood Brother' was a character study and 'Gennadiy' ultimately will be that as well. Everything I learned through 'Blood Brother' I'm basically able to apply," to the next movie.
"There was a major learning curve so I was able to walk into 'Gennadiy' a lot more clear minded, I had more confidence, I had more direction, internal direction. ... In some ways, 'Blood Brother' was, I'm not going to say accidental because I wanted to make a documentary but it wasn't as intentional as 'Gennadiy.' "
"Blood Brother" did not make the shortlist for the 2013 Oscar for best documentary, but it is one of four films in contention for the Humanitas Documentary Award at the annual IDA Documentary Awards.
It's given "to a film that explores the hopes and fears of human beings who are very different in culture, race, lifestyle, political loyalties and religious beliefs in order to break down the walls of ignorance which separate us." The winner will be announced tonight in Los Angeles.