A new 37-minute documentary entitled “Seeking Shelter: The Life & Legacy of Bhakti Charu Swami” is set to premiere on ISKCON News and Youtube on July 24th, as part of the global celebration on the beloved ISKCON guru’s disappearance day.
“The pandemic has claimed millions of lives — ordinary humans, celebrities and saintly people alike — leaving loved ones grappling with the tragic loss and burning existential questions such as ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ and ‘Where do we find shelter from the tragedies of human life?’” reads the film’s official summary. “Among the lost treasures is the world-renowned spiritual teacher Bhakti Charu Swami from Bengal, India, who passed away due to complications from Covid-19 on July 4th, 2020, in Orlando, Florida, at the age of 74. This documentary captures his major life events and achievements while providing a glimpse into his inner journey seeking ultimate shelter (‘saranagati’), through his own words, music and art.”
The film is written and directed by Krisztina Danka, Ph.D. (Krishna Lila Dasi) - a multi-award-winning filmmaker of documentaries like The Joy of Devotion, The Stolen River and Nature’s IQ. The Director of Photography is Filip Cargonja (Gaura Govinda Das), who has worked with Krishna Lila on many previous films. Seeking Shelter is also executive produced by Rishi Singh (Rasabihari Krishna Das), and produced by Sharon Hamilton-Getz (Saranagati Dasi), a disciple of Bhakti Charu Swami who works for several United Nations NGOs.
“The shock of losing Guru Maharaja was so severe for everyone,” Saranagati says. “It was better to do something productive. I discussed this with my Godsister Aparajita Radhika and suggested contacting my dear friend Krishna Lila about making a documentary. The result is a wonderful way of keeping Bhakti Charu Swami’s legacy alive in the hearts of all devotees, and to inspire others who may not know him. Through the film and Krishna Lila’s artistic skills, it will be an opportunity to amplify the heart and soul, through his example of ethics, devotional arts and dedicated service to Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON.”
Seeking Shelter depicts the major events and main achievements in Bhakti Charu Swami’s life through archival footage and photos as well as interviews with the Swami himself, who tells his story in his own words. Some of this is unseen footage from a 2015 interview in Mumbai for the film The Joy of Devotion. The rest comes from interviews Krishna Lila conducted in February 2020 with GBC Members in Mayapur, with the aim of shedding light on the details of their service for the international devotee community.
“When I interviewed Bhakti Charu Maharaja, for some reason, there was something pushing from inside me to ‘just keep the camera rolling, and ask personal questions,’” Krishna Lila recalls. “So as well as discussing the GBC topic, I ended up asking a lot about his whole life.”
The film also includes Zoom interviews with others about Bhakti Charu Swami’s impact on the world, including GBC Anuttama Das on what it was like to work with him on the GBC body; Professor Graham M. Schweig on his contribution to promoting Vaishnava culture; Visvambhar Sheth about his impact on the kirtan movement; devotees from Deland, Florida on his 116-acre farm project there; and Yadunath Das about the experience of working as an actor on Maharaja’s Abhay Charan series about the life of Srila Prabhupada, which was broadcast on national television in India.
Other interviewees highlight Bhakti Charu Swami’s artistic achievements as a musician or filmmaker; his managerial capabilities at projects like Deland and the ISKCON temple in Ujjain, India, which feeds tens of thousands of schoolchildren a day; and his personal relationship with Srila Prabhupada and deep commitment to preserving Prabhupada’s legacy.
“Obviously in 37 minutes, you can't cover all his wonderful achievements,” Krishna Lila says. “But we could shed a little bit of light on the magnitude of the impact he left on thousands and thousands of people’s lives.”
Another interesting element of Seeking Shelter is the narrative theme, from which the film gets its title. “A good biopic only works if you have some kind of storytelling device that holds it together, a universal element that is appealing to broader human nature,” says Krishna Lila. “For this film I found it in Bhakti Charu Swami’s own art and teachings, on the process of Saranagati.”
Saranagati, or seeking shelter, was a key theme that was very important to Bhakti Charu Swami, who released a music album named Saranagati, and taught many lectures on the process around the world.
“Through his art and teachings, we were able to address the universal issue of the quest for shelter from the suffering of this world,” Krishna Lila says. “Whether it’s a pandemic, trauma, or just life and death, everybody's on that journey of trying to find relief, trying to find some sort of shelter. So we were able to look at that, and also to provide the audience a little bit of insight about how he felt, what was going on inside him, and how the inner journey corresponded to the outer journey.”
Such a universal message was important for the filmmaking team, who wanted to share Bhakti Charu Swami’s impact not only with devotees, but also with wider audiences. Sure enough, Seeking Shelter has been connecting with the outside world, having won three awards already: Best Documentary Film and Best Film on Religion at the Tagore International Film Festival, and Best Film on Religion at the L’Age d’Or International Arthouse Film Festival.
“The purpose of this film was to ease the pain of separation for those attached to him, and to give Maharaja a platform to keep preaching, keep reaching out, even though he's not physically present,” says Krishna Lila. “The awards indicate that yes, his story does resonate with a lot of people even outside of the ISKCON circle. Maharaja is a treasure of ISKCON, and we wanted people outside of ISKCON to know about him and appreciate him, and appreciate Srila Prabhupada’s movement through his personality and his journey.”
Seeking Shelter will premiere on ISKCON News and Youtube on July 24th in English, with the option of subtitles in Hindi and other languages; and will be part of the global celebration of Bhakti Charu Swami’s disappearance day, which will feature online events, and in-person observances in those places where Covid regulations allow.
Producer Saranagati Dasi hopes that audience takeaways from the film will include the realization “That death doesn’t cause the life of such a great personality to end; that the life and legacy of Bhakti Charu Swami will live on and continue to inspire.” She also hopes that the film will show “his humble love and dedication to Srila Prabhupada, who gave him Krishna-bhakti, and thus revealed himself to be truly an ‘ocean of mercy.’”
Watch the trailer for Seeking Shelter here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcHfUfRr1xw
To set your reminder for the film premier, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enVfsJSzk-4