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'Blood Brother's Director Responds to Questions About His Documentary's Openness

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by Sam Adams
November 12, 2013 2:05 PM
3 Comments
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Getty Images 'Blood Brother' director Steve Hoover, center, with subject Rocky Braat and Sundance head John Cooper after the documentary took the festival's top prize.

If you've been reading Criticwire recently, you'll have noticed a series of articles about the documentary Blood Brother, which has grown into a larger discussion about how critics and filmmakers deal with the issue of religious faith. First, I asked why critics Tom Roston and Christopher Campbell zeroed in on the film's failure to acknowledge the fact that director Steve Hoover and subject Rocky Braat, were members of the same Pittsburgh church, and wondered whether this was deliberately misleading or part of a larger phenomenon of Christian artists not wanting to make their faith to obscure their work.

Then, Christianity Today's chief film critic, Alissa Wilkinson, added her decidedly more informed perspective, bringing in the behavior of pop-music artists, some of whom cater to an explicitly Christian audience and some of whom are desperate not to be associated with it:

[O]n the one hand, there's a whole market segment that will buy your record, go see your movie, etc., simply because you're a Christian and there's Jesus or at least strong Jesusy undertones in your record or film.

On the other hand, everyone sort of implicitly assumes that if you make a "Christian" product, it's (a) just for Christians and (b) probably not very good quality, even if the message is by some standard or another stellar, because you don't have to be very good to get people to buy it, and because the industry as a whole has had a fairly shoddy record over the past few decades when it comes to artistry, craftsmanship, innovation, and quality.

Now, Hoover has written his own response on Blood Brother's site, addressing what he refers to as "some complicated allegations." Although it's only fair that anyone who's read Roston's article read Hoover's response in its entirety, in terms of the ongoing discussion, what's more interesting is Hoover's clear assertion that Blood Brother is not itself a work of religious activism and that Rocky Braat is not a saintly paradigm:

I understand why Roston might be tempted to group Rocky with certain vocal and very visible faith groups, but Rocky's not that kind of Christian. His faith (among many complex motivations explored in the film) inspires him to love people in tangible ways, like cleaning the wounds and open sores of children with HIV with little regard for his own safety. That love isn't some elaborate trick to get people to convert. When he takes a sick Hindu man to the hospital, there’s no expectation that the man will change his beliefs.  Rocky cares for him because he needs care.  Love is an end to itself.

This doesn't necessarily answer the concern other critics have raised more generally that the film favors the story of a heroic individual over the institutions, be they churches or secular NGOs, that more broadly address the issue of African AIDS, which is an issue that has less to do with religion and more to do with dominant narrative structures. But that's a different discussion than the one Criticwire has been fortunate to take part in the last several days, and perhaps one for another time or another film.

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3 Comments

  • FP | January 21, 2014 2:47 PMReply

    Unlike the typical documentary about a concept, idea, era, etc., this film felt like a narrative story about a man who rejects an empty, consumerist existence in the American empire for a more meaningful existence. It is a personal story, and I thought an affecting one in an age of BLING RINGs and SPRING BREAKERS. I'm not sure why the subject's or the documentarian's religion matters in this case, unless there is valid suspicion is due to outright lies about who Braat is and how he was able to go to and stay in India. I suppose there are a few troubling questions that could have been answered, and maybe there is more story here than we yet know, but I find it sad that no one can believe there are people who find fulfillment elsewhere in the world by helping those who cannot help themselves. Even if Christianity does guide Braat's decision-making, do we think those kids are worse off for it?

  • theurbanfilm | November 12, 2013 5:43 PMReply

    If this was a film with "anti-Christ" undertones or blatant shots at the Christian community, no one would be questioning or criticizing the filmmaker regarding this film, it would be fully accepted without question.

  • DL | November 18, 2013 3:55 AM

    If it turned out that the filmmaker and documentary's subject for this hypothetical "anti-Christ" film was a member of a controversial group, but wasn't revealed in the film, I definitely think it would get outed and scrutinized on why that fact wasn't included.

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