Joy of Devotion, a new documentary currently in production and set to be released in 2016 -- ISKCON’s 50th anniversary year – will show the seeds Srila Prabhupada planted 50 years ago thriving around the world.
“We are a very diverse movement,” says director Krishna-lila Dasi (Krisztina Danka). “And we’ll show that in the film, as well as the many different ways our devotees experience the joy of devotion, and the different types of inspiration that drive them.”
“But there is an underlying unity within all that diversity,” she adds. “And that is that all ISKCON devotees derive pleasure and great joy from serving God and humanity.”
Joy of Devotion will pick up where Yadubara Dasa’s Srila Prabhupada biopic Acharya – the other major film to be released during ISKCON’s 50th – leaves off. It is funded by the GBC 50th Anniversary Committee, as well as individual devotees and ISKCON centers all over the world.
Filming began in September of last year, and since then Krishna-lila has traveled all over the world with her own crew of filmmaking professionals, while also hiring local crews in each country.
Since ISKCON is so diverse and large, the filmmakers had to pick a handful of devotees and locations to represent different parts of the movement.
They began by portraying ISKCON’s achievements in simple living and high thinking through Krishna Valley, a 660-acre sustainable farm in Hungary.
ISKCON 's organic farm Krishna-valley in Hungary (photo by Radha Vallabha Das)
“There, we interviewed Eco-Valley Foundation chairman Radha Krishna Das and environmentalist Partha Das,” says Krishna-lila. “We also filmed a lot of the community’s projects like agriculture and renewable energy in action.”
Next, the film crew showed how ISKCON’s second and third generations are growing and contributing by taking a look at the movement’s largest community in the Western World – Alachua, Florida, home to some 500 congregational families.
There, they interviewed ISKCON’s Youth Minister Manorama Das and his wife Jaya Sri Radhe, who run three inspirational preaching tours for different age groups, and Visvambhara Das, head of the community’s Bhaktivedanta Academy Montessori school.
“We also filmed the Krishna Lunch being cooked and distributed on campus at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and interviewed students about what they thought of the prasadam,” Krishna-lila says.
DP Hilary Zakheim gets ISKCON Youth Minister Manorama Das to sit on his kitchen table for the perfect shot
In England, Krishna-lila’s team filmed Kirtan London, and its efforts to take kirtan mainstream. The group is following in the footsteps of George Harrison and Srila Prabhupada’s early pioneers, and attracts the general public with regular “Mantra Lounges” and 6-Hour Kirtans.
Meanwhile in Russia, the film crew covered the congregational devotee boom in Moscow, where there are now tens of thousands of devotees.
“We interviewed sankirtan leader Prabhupada Das and GBC Bhakti Vijnana Swami about how they were persecuted by the government and thrown into jail during the Soviet era, and contrasted that with their experiences now,” says Krishna-lila. “We also interviewed Dr. Sergey Ivanenko, a Russian sociologist who has been researching ISKCON since the communist era.”
Krishna-lila’s crew also filmed a hugely successful Mantra Yoga event at a trendy Moscow club and interviewed some of the 2,500 newcomers who attended. And they spoke to the city’s diverse congregation, including a photographer, a painter, a designer, and rockstar Premamaya Vasudeva Das, who appeared on Russia’s edition of the popular TV show The Voice.
In India, the crew visited the under-construction Temple of the Vedic Planetarium in Mayapur. Set to be ISKCON’s flagship temple when it opens in 2022, it’s the realization of a long-cherished dream of Srila Prabhupada. It will cover 520,000 square feet, be thirty storeys high, and will feature detailed models of the universe as described in Vedic texts.
In Mumbai, the “Joy”-film crew looked at some of ISKCON’s biggest charity efforts for the body, mind and soul. They interviewed Annamrita director Radha Krishna Das, asking him how the charity manages to feed sanctified vegetarian food to 1.2 million children every day, and spoke to Annamrita board-member Bhakti Charu Swami as well as billionaire supporters of the project. They also interviewed Dr. Madhavananda at Bhaktivedanta Hospital, where the spiritual atmosphere helps heal the soul along with the body.
Krishna-lila interviews businessman Ajay Piramal about his involvement in Mumbai's Annamrita charity
In Australia, Krishna-lila hired a local crew to film at some of the most successful devotee-run restaurants in the world, and interview their chefs, managers and guests about how ISKCON has helped make vegetarianism trendy and widely accepted.
Finally, the team also filmed the epic New York Rathayatra, which draws thousands of devotees from around the world to parade down Fifth Avenue. While in the city, they also took a tour of the key spots in the history of ISKCON, which was of course incorporated in New York in 1966.
“The idea is to demonstrate ISKCON’s progress by showing our humble beginnings at 26 2nd Avenue, then cutting to the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium,” says Krishna-lila. “Or to show the tree at Tompkins Square Park where the very first public chanting was held, and then cut to the Mantra Yoga event in Moscow with thousands of people.”
Radha Krishna Das (left) invited the filming crew - Krishna Lila, Gaura Govinda and Suravarya - for a healthy Food for Life breakfast at the Annamrita kitchen near Chowpatty.
Next, in December, the Joy of Devotion crew are heading to Brazil, which will represent ISKCON book distribution aspect in the film. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, devotees there distributed nearly one million of Prabhupada’s books a year. And now, after a period of struggle, Latin America is heading back to the top – in 2012 the Portuguese and Spanish division of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust collectively sold over one million books for the first time in decades.
Lastly, the team hopes to also film in South Africa around the theme of festivals.
Joy of Devotion is set to be released in a short 15-minute version online in early February, and in a longer 45-minute version for screening at ISKCON 50th anniversary events around the world in mid 2016. The longer version will be edited and shot so as to make it suitable for TV broadcast, in the hope that it will reach a wide audience as well.
“It’s been a treasure-hunt for me and our crew,” says Krishna-lila. “Going around the world and meeting all these wonderful people was such an amazing experience. Because the actual strength and treasure of ISKCON is not the big buildings or land, but the devotees. And they have so much talent, and such beautiful golden hearts devoted to Krishna – and to doing good for this world – that it’s just going to be really, really uplifting for viewers to see.”
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