After sleeping on the cement floor of a hut in India while making their last film “Blood Brother,” director Steve Hoover and producer Danny Yourd are looking forward to resting a little easier while making their next film, though it’s still far from their home base of Pittsburgh.
“Ukraine is a little different as we get to have familiar comforts such as a bed,” says Yourd.
Still, he and Hoover may not get all that much shuteye, at least for the next few weeks as the new documentary “Gennadiy” raises funds on Kickstarter before an August 13th deadline.
Wasting no time after “Blood Brother” took this year’s Sundance Film Festival by storm by winning both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for documentary, the team is mounting a followup in Eastern Europe where they will profile Gennadiy Mokhnenko, the founder of an orphanage in Mariupal. Built like a boxer and dressed like a priest, Mokhnenko has forged his own path as a philanthropist after growing up in a volatile household with two alcoholic parents and has subsequently made it his mission to give homeless children in the region stability in a place where it is still difficult to come by following the Cold War.
However, his methodology might be considered as harsh as the orphans already face on the streets, usually pulling the kids into an unmarked van and often having to guide them through the painful process of detoxification since glue sniffing and other drug use is common.
“I’ve had friends die from drug abuse and I’ve tried to help addicts without success, so I’m sympathetic towards those suffering through these things, especially so with abandoned children,” says Hoover, who previously tapped into personal experience by following his best friend to an AIDS hostel in India for “Blood Brother.” “When I learned about Gennadiy, the complexity of his character, the brutal intensity of his efforts and all the themes surrounding him, I felt compelled and inspired to tell his story. His methods are different, borderline questionable, but effective.”
Different and effective are also adjectives that are just as likely to apply to “Gennadiy” the film if its urgent, arresting Kickstarter video is any indication. With plans to accompany the fearless Ukranian humanitarian on his rescue runs in the evening and his protests of the government’s specious policies towards drug dealers in the streets by day all set to a score composed by “The Social Network”‘s co-composer Atticus Ross and collaborators Leopold Ross and Claudia Sarne, the film promises to do justice to its rulebreaking subject, which is one reason why the filmmakers turned to crowdsourcing to protect their vision.
“We learned from ‘Blood Brother’ the rewards that come with creating a film and telling a story that we have complete creative freedom over,” says Yourd, who has been working with Hoover since the two attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh together and subsequently began the commercial and music video production house Endeavor Media (which in turn was folded into Animal Inc., which has backed both of the duo’s features).
It was actually on a job based in Ukraine for a nonprofit organization for an unrelated short that led the pair to meet Gennadiy and as they learned more about his story, they were compelled to turn his story into a feature. Much of what convinced them will be included in the film since Mokhnenko’s exploits have been well-documented in the news and in mini-docs, but never before compiled in such a comprehensive way or placed in such a universal context.
Like “Blood Brother,” which has continued to circle the globe this summer at various film festivals to raise awareness and money for HIV/AIDS causes, the filmmakers are planning to make “Gennadiy” the center of a similar campaign for the Pilgrim Orphanage Foundation as well as other organizations around the world that help shelter street kids, giving extra meaning to this community effort. After strengthening their already tight-knit crew while making their first feature together, Hoover and Yourd hope they bring even more into the fold on Kickstarter.
“We learned a lot over the last three years with ‘Blood Brother,’” says Yourd. “We grew as filmmakers and as friends, so I think [we’re] bringing that all to the table to hopefully make another moving documentary.”