Feedback is now flooding in from audiences around the world who have watched the first comprehensive documentary film made about ISKCON in 30 years – “The Joy of Devotion,” released on December 10th for Gita Jayanti.
In the 86-minute feature, the people of the Hare Krishna Movement share how Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON and devotion to Lord Krishna changed their lives, and how in turn they’re trying to make a difference in the world.
Viewing it has made a deep impression on many.
“A must-see for anyone seeking inspiration on life purpose and service,” said yoga teacher and transformational coach Abigail DeSoto from Washington D.C. “Truly inspirational, from the heart, authentic, and human. A beautiful film about how fulfilling and rich life can be!”
Director Krishna-lila Dasi (Krisztina Danka, Ph.D.) of Karuna Productions preceded the documentary with a short film entitled “Hare Krishna: Fifty Years of Service and Joy,” which focused more on the history of ISKCON the institution. Released in February 2016, it received about 116,000 YouTube hits, and received over 100 screenings in 33 countries. It was also shown on national television in India. Altogether, it reached over one million viewers.
The full-length Joy of Devotion film, meanwhile, has a much more emotional tug, focusing on the personal stories of Hare Krishna people rather than the institution. Because of this, the hope is that it will reach an even larger audience.
So far it has been screened in twelve countries, including Belgium, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary, the UK, France, the Philippines, Taiwan, South Africa, and India. It has also been shown in nine states in the U.S.
In India, “Joy” was shown at the Mayapur Gaura Purnima festival in the Samadhi auditorium. In the U.S., it was screened to ISKCON temple presidents and other leaders at the North American Leadership Conference in Houston, Texas. It also received several screenings in Washington D.C., including one at a rented theater that drew not only devotees but also a broad cross-section of people interested in spirituality.
Other temples in the U.S. and Europe showed the film as part of their New Years’ Eve parties or Gaura Purnima celebrations. The Joy of Devotion was also screened at the Radhadesh Mellows kirtan festival in Belgium; for the anniversary of the installation of Sri Sri Dayal Nitai Vijay Gauranga in Budapest; and at college programs in Johannesburg.
Upcoming showings include one at the Bhakti Center in Manhattan on March 31st, and one at a town hall in Melbourne Australia on April 8th that’s expected to draw 500 people.
The film is currently not available for individual viewing – only for public screenings by centers, clubs, educational institutions or groups of friends. Screeners cost $125 but can then be viewed unlimited times for as long as desired.
Some ISKCON centers have opted to pay the $250 fee required to use the film to raise funds for their spiritual projects.
In the UK, for instance, devotees charged a ticket fee at the door for their screening at the Camden Centre in Central London for 300 leaders, community members and newcomers.
Meanwhile the Bhaktivedanta Academy primary school in Alachua, Florida, which was featured in the film, will screen The Joy of Devotion for a community “movie night” that will raise funds for the school.
All the screenings so far have been very well received, with viewers deeply moved and sometimes tearing up by seeing the impact Srila Prabhupada has made on people’s hearts across the world.
This personal angle is especially affecting, with a wide variety of people in the film sharing how they came to Krishna consciousness and what they do today.
There are charity workers feeding school children in Mumbai’s slums; Australian entrepreneurs who started the first chain of vegetarian restaurants in the country; a Russian scientist who was interrogated by the KGB and kicked out of his job for his beliefs but is now a well-known author and teacher; an English pop-star who uses his talents to elevate people’s consciousness; a Zulu kirtan singer who creates bridges between cultures, and more.
Perhaps even more important and moving is the way the film’s subjects open up about why they do what they do. These personal motivations have deeply resonated with many viewers.
“We found it very important to present to the world that devotees are not just some kind of lunatic idealists,” says director Krishna-lila. “They have thought it through, and can express those deeper feelings in a very compelling way – deeper feelings that drive them on a daily basis to serve God and humanity, and to derive joy from it.”
In showing them the full picture of what’s happening in ISKCON all around the world, The Joy of Devotion has also helped devotee audiences connect to something beyond their local bubbles and feel proud that they belong to such a society. Audiences have said they feel reassured in their faith and the sense that they’re members of a truly international family.
The Joy of Devotion filmmakers were also careful to keep their documentary grounded, avoiding being a promotional puff piece. To do this, they feature some of Vaishnavism’s most prominent academic scholars speaking about Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON’s impact, and what bhakti is.
Harvard World Religion department head Francis Clooney, renowned Indologist Tom Hopkins (who personally met Srila Prabhupada), UC Santa Barbara’s Barbara Holdrege, and Larry Shinn, who has studied ISKCON for decades, all give the other interviewees’ stories gravity and context.
“The substantial points the film’s many scholars make firmly establish the authenticity and depth of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and movement,” commented author and Prabhupada disciple Visakha Dasi, while London videographer Caitya Guru Das said, “It was far from being propagandistic, it was honest.”
This academic heft should interest educational institutions who would like to learn more about present forms of Eastern spirituality in using the film as an educational tool.
Plans to submit the film to such institutions are coming in the latter half of 2017, along with plans to submit it for TV broadcast, and to make it available for individual download.
The film-makers are asking devotees who have contacts in local public TV stations with religious or spiritual programming to help connect them. They’re also asking devotees who are interested in getting the film subtitled for their local language to get in touch. For both topics, contact Krishna-lila at email@example.com.
The film-makers are also encouraging ISKCON centers who haven’t yet taken advantage of the public screenings to do so by visiting https://www.joyofdevotionfilm.com/hold-a-screening.
“We strongly encourage other centers and temples across the UK and globally to purchase a license to screen the film in their locality,” says Devaki Dasi, ISKCON 50 Coordinator in the UK. “The film premiere at the Camden Centre in London was inspirational for all who attended, and increased appreciation of what Srila Prabhupada and his followers have achieved in the last 50 years. The film empowers and inspires each one of us to play our part in pioneering andassisting with further achievements by ISKCON in the upcoming decades.”
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies