‘Joy of Devotion’ film shows global impact of Hare Krishnas

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By Madhava Smullen, ISKCON News

In a new documentary film released on December 10th for Gita Jayanti, 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.

One of the final events of the ISKCON 50th anniversary year, the 85-minute film has been called “one of the best films ever produced about ISKCON” by the society’s Communications Minister Anuttama Das.

Titled “The Joy of Devotion,” it was created and directed by Hungarian-born, US-based professional filmmaker Krishna-lila Dasi (Krisztina Danka, Ph.D.) of Karuna Productions. Karuna previously produced “Nature’s I.Q.” a feature film about extraordinary animal behavior challenging modern mainstream scientific theories, “Rescuing the Stolen River” about the plight of the Yamuna, and many other films and videos about conscious living, spirituality and service to humanity. (See full filmography at www.karunaproductions.com).

“The Joy of Devotion” also counts among its executive producers Bhakti Charu Swami, who previously worked on the Indian TV series “Abhay Charan.”

Krishna-lila and her large international crew of film professionals, including many devotees, worked on the documentary for over two-and-a-half years, hopping around the globe to shoot in five continents and dozens of locations. They conducted interviews in North and South America, Europe—including Russia—India, Africa and Australia.

The resulting inspirational film begins with an introduction to Srila Prabhupada and the sacrifices he made in coming West to spread Vaishnava culture, as well as a clear and insightful introduction to the process of Bhakti Yoga, or devotion.

The film begins with scholars and early disciples talking about the hardships and significance of Prabhupada’s journey

It then looks at the diverse lives of Krishna devotees around the world, as they share in interviews how ISKCON gave purpose and joy to their lives and how they’re giving back in service to others.

In South Africa, an African woman from a Zulu tradition talks about her experience in infusing her culture with Krishna-bhakti, and sharing her devotion with other South Africans through a variety of cultural means. She also discusses conflicts with her Christian family, and how she overcame her struggles.

The title card for the “Musicians” chapter of the film

In the UK Ananda Monet, a young woman of Russian origin, talks about how she’s using her talents as a professional singer to spread awareness of Krishna; and about how her life has been enriched through using her skills in devotional service.

Meanwhile a British devotee, Jayadeva Das, recalls his youth as a rock ‘n’ roll star in the 1970s with the band The Rubettes. One day, he says, his life reached a dead end – sex, drugs, fame and twenty million record sales failed to give lasting happiness. He describes how he found that happiness by becoming a devotee of Krishna, and how he still uses his musical skills to experience and share Krishna-bhakti.

Jayadeva Das with a group of enthusiastic British kirtaniyas on the streets of London

In the USA, Dr. Ravi Gupta, a professor of religious studies at Utah State University and Jaya Sri Radhe Dasi, a teacher at Bhaktivedanta Academy in Alachua, Florida, talk about how their Krishna consciousness has inspired them to try to make the world a better place through education.

Another segment of the film, set in Moscow, covers the persecution of Russian devotees during the Soviet era. In personal interviews, some of these devotees explain how they were tortured and imprisoned, and how they overcame unimaginable hardship to create one of the most thriving Hare Krishna communities in the world today.

Armenian devotee Prabhupada Das gives a hint as to what it was like to practice Krishna consciousness in a “forbidden land”

In India, Annamrita director Radha Krishna Das describes how Hare Krishna food relief programs feed sanctified vegetarian food to 1.2 million children a day. And auto-magnate heir Ambarisa Das (Alfred Ford) talks about spending his fortune building spiritual and educational centers such as the under-construction Temple of the Vedic Planetarium in Mayapur.

In Australia, second-generation devotee Nitai Durr and others talk about how their restaurants have become some of the most successful devotee-run eateries in the world, and how ISKCON has helped make vegetarianism trendy and widely accepted.

There’s also a deeply uplifting segment about ISKCON’s eco-villages in Brazil and Hungary, where devotees are teaching and working in partnerships with their governments to create more sustainable ways of living. In Brazil, for instance, they are partnering with the government to save native birds from the threat of extinction and abuse by smugglers.

Rama Putra Das of Brazil’s Nova Gokula releases a rescued toucan into the wilderness

“All this is explained through the eyes of individual devotees, who explain how their Krishna consciousness and Prabhupada’s teachings in ISKCON have inspired them to be better people, and to give back to the world around them,” says Anuttama Das, who is also an executive producer.

The Joy of Devotion also draws extensively from interviews with academic scholars taking a look at fifty years of the Krishna tradition around the world, such as Harvard’s Francis X. Clooney, UC Santa Barbara’s Barbara Holdrege, Tom Hopkins, and Larry Shinn.

Francis Clooney, one of the many prominent scholars featured in the film

“I think this film explains the depth and authenticity of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition and ISKCON, and shows in a very practical and inspiring way how Krishna-bhakti is affecting people’s lives,” says Anuttama. “It shows how whoever you are and whatever you do, you can connect it with Krishna and find a new level of inner happiness and peace through that connection.”

ISKCON devotees who watch the film, meanwhile, will be deeply inspired. “They’ll see how our movement is blossoming in so many ways, in so many parts of the world,” says Anuttama. “And how there are wonderful, beautiful Vaishnavas all over the world, who are making a difference in their lives and in their communities in very humble yet creative ways.”

Rasi’s irresistible smile in her classroom at Alachua’s Bhaktivedanta Academy, during the film’s “Educators” scene.

The Joy of Devotion will be made available as a digital download for ISKCON temples to screen from December 10th. Temples are asked to make a $125 contribution to cover the costs of marketing and additional films that will be produced with extra footage taken during the shoot. However once the fee is paid, they’ll be free to screen the film as much as they want for ever.

Future plans include a release to outside educational venues and to television stations, as well as a downloadable version for individuals to watch.

“We’re hoping that temples around the world will take advantage of this, because I think this film will leave their communities feeling inspired, and closer to Prabhupada and and his ISKCON movement worldwide,” Anuttama says. “It’ll also leave them feeling grateful  on the occasion of ISKCON’s 50th anniversary for the wonderful gifts that Prabhupada has given us, and the gifts that our fellow devotees continue to give to the world.”

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To order a copy and the public screening rights of the film for your center, please click here.