The 2nd Annual Vaishnava Film Festival, held from March 18th to 20th in Mayapur, West Bengal, premiered new productions, awarded upcoming and veteran filmmakers, and showed how ISKCON is truly beginning to embrace the most popular medium of the 21st century.
Over the first two nights, held during the famous annual Mayapur festival, thirty trailers, shorts, and documentaries were shown in Srila Prabhupada’s Samadhi Auditorium. They were presented by co-organizers Nrsimhananda Das of ISKCON Television and Vasudeva Das of BhakTV.
Among the films shown were two of Vasudeva’s own. The 28-minute Tribal Care in Assam – receiving its premiere -- showed Mayapur resident Bhakti Purusottama Swami and his team adopting tribal villages and helping them both philanthropically and spiritually.
Meanwhile in 2014’s two-part Mountain Monks travelogue – which received the Best Documentary award at the Kolkata International Short Film Festival – Vasudeva visits Himalayan Buddhist monasteries in Darjeeling and Sikkim, and takes a look at the similarities between Buddhism and Vaishnavism.
Montain Monks (Part One) by Vasudeva.
The high level of professionalism continued with the glossy 40-minute Reconnection, by husband-and-wife team Shyam Gopal Das and Vijaya Radhika Dasi, who are originally from Siberia and now run their own studio in India. The fictional narrative follows Sean Fletcher (played by Gaura Gopal Das), a social media connosseiur who can’t seem to connect in his real life relationships, as he discovers his true self in the sacred town of Vrindavan. The film won an Award of Excellence from the Best Shorts Competition.
Reconnection trailer by Shyam Gopal and Vijay Radhika.
Another powerful fictional short was Long Lost, from Russian writer/director Shaktyavesha Avatara Das. In it, professional actor John Gould plays a young London man searching for answers in life and finding Krishna consciousness. The film came in at third place in Russian film festival “I See God,” and was recommended by the London Film Academy.
Shaktyavesha Avatara is also part of an intriguing social media effort, Fortunate People, which films members of the general public receiving a Bhagavad-gita As It Is and chanting Hare Krishna for the first time, while dedicating the mantra to “world peace.” The latest video clip, “Great Mantra for Love and Peace,” created by Tamal Krishna Das, was shown at the Festival as an example of the principle of ‘Every Town and Village’ applied in the Internet Age – it received 20,000 views, 1,000 likes and 600 shares in just 24 hours.
One of the videos of the Fortunate People series.
One of the biggest hits of the Vaishnava Film Festival was For Tomorrow, written and directed by Jagannath Kirtan Das of Kriyate Productions. Dazzling in both its technical accomplishments like DOP Dhira Krishna’s warm, rich cinematography, and in its emotional depth, it moved many. In the 11-minute piece, endearingly-narrated by 12-year-old student Purushottama Das, we experience life at Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami’s Bhaktivedanta Academy ashram, and visit the construction site of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium – while some clever animation brings it to life.
“It’s just such a mature, artistically impressive film, made with such flair,” Vasudeva enthuses.
For Tomorrow by the Kriyate team.
Audiences also saw two hard-hitting documentary films by Krishna-lila Dasi, whose work on environmental and humanitarian issues, interfaith dialogue and spirituality have been broadcast on TV channels around the world. In Nature’s IQ, we see one hundred incredible instinctive behaviors in the animal kingdom that challenge Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. And in Rescuing the Stolen River – which garnered much praise at Delhi’s CMS Vatavaran Environmental Film Festival – we see the harrowing effects of pollution in the sacred Yamuna River.
Rescuing the Stolen River trailer by Krishna-lila.
Also shown were Prananatha Das’ documentary, Govardhana Seva, about cleaning up the sacred hill; Ananta Vrindavan’s “music video” depicting Indradyumna Swami’s inspirational tour of Mongolia in September 2015; and Women of Bhakti, in which producer Jahnava Hauser and filmmaker Hilary Tapper take us on a journey into the lives of historical and modern devotees of Bhakti Yoga in India and America. And, of course, many, many more.
On the third and final night of the Vaishnava Film Festival, its creator Nrsimhananda Das MCd an evening of awards in which two categories of filmmakers were presented with golden “Nityananda Awards.”
Into the Heart of Mongolia by Ananta Vrindavan.
Special Achievement awards were given to ISKCON’s younger, up-and-coming filmmakers, as well as those whose one-time offerings made an impact. These included Dhira Krishna and Jagannath Kirtan, Shaktyavesha Avatara, Tamal Krishna, and Ananta Vrindavan.
“I really want to thank you all for watching, because for us filmmakers, what can make us more happy than to have such a great devotee audience?” Ananta said in his acceptance speech, emphasizing how important audience validation was in the video medium.
Also awarded were Lauris Bolnis for his production company BRR films, which made Long Lost and other beautiful shorts; Danavir Goswami for Vedic Cosmos: The Mystery of the Workings of the Universe; Pancharatna Das for his black and white videos of Srila Prabhupada in the early days of ISKCON; and Madhudvisa Das of Krishnastore.com for editing and subtitling 50 hours of Prabhupada videos.
Long Lost trailer by Shyaktyavesa avatara Das and BRR Films.
Meanwhile devotees whose illustrious filmmaking careers spanned many years and productions were presented with Lifetime Achievement Awards. They included Vasudeva, Krishna-lila, Haridas of ITV India, Isvara Das of Touchstone Media in Southeast Asia, Antardwip Das and Vince Lane of Mayapur.tv, Vaisnava Seva Das of ISKCON Desire Tree, Ramanuja Das and Shyamasakhi Dasi of Hare Krishna Culture TV in the UK, and Russian festival documentary-maker Bal Krsna Das.
The latter was key as the Film Festival was dedicated to his son, the late Krishna Das, who had been a teen pioneer amongst his generation in utilizing media for outreach, and had helped put on the first Vaishnava Film Festival in 2006.
Vishnu Murti Das also received an award for his distribution of Krishna conscious video media over 30 years through Bhaktivedanta Library Services in Europe; and Prananatha Das – humorously dubbed “The Drone Acharya” – received one for his many video clips including aerial drone films of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium.
“In his speech, Prananatha gave credit to our seniors for inspiring us to get involved with film production, and emphasized the importance of peer encouragement,” recalls Vasudeva.
One of the videos by "Drone Acharya" Prananatha.
The grand finale was the legendary Siddhanta Das, who was awarded for his work with ITV since 1979, and for his celebrated “Memories” series featuring dozens of interviews with Prabhupada disciples about their experiences with him.
However, there was one more person who had not received an award – Nrsimhananda himself, who had not only launched the Vaishnava Film Festival, but also inspired countless devotees in filmmaking and served as the producer-director for ISKCON Television (ITV) since its very beginning.
“Before the festival, I had suggested he receive an award, and he had refused, saying, “No, my reward is to organize this festival,” Vasudeva says. “So he wasn’t expecting it, and it wasn’t even planned. But we found an extra Nityananda Award and spontaneously presented it to him, and it was the crowning moment of the night. The ceremony wouldn’t have been complete without Nrsimhananda receiving his award. It was magical. Everybody really appreciated the moment, and Nrsimhananda himself was moved almost to tears, and told us how much it meant to him.”
For his part, Vasudeva feels that the Vaishnava Film Festival and Award Ceremony is an important event that will now develop into an ISKCON institution.
“Two features stood out this year,” he says. “Firstly, the quality of emerging talent in the devotional video medium; and secondly, the deep appreciation the recipients felt for this rare formal recognition of their service. Looking to the future, I think that this festival will stir up a new interest in the importance of filmmaking, as a preaching medium in ISKCON.”
“These awards mean a lot to aspiring and veteran Vaisnava filmmakers,” Nrismhananda adds. “I felt so privileged to be a part of acknowledging the fine work that they are doing on a shoestring budget.”
Watch the videos of the award ceremony here:
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The full list of the awardees:
Lifetime Achievement Awards:
Siddhanta das - for his Memory video Series, companion books and his hard-working ITV service since 1979.
Krishna-lila dasi (Krisztina Danka) - for her numerous enlivening ISKCON documentaries (Karuna Productions).
Haridas das - for his ITV (Iskcon Television India) broadcasting of drashan, pravachans, and self-produced documentaries via cable and satellite
Ramanuja das and Shyamasaki dasi - for their Hare Krishna Culture broadcasting in UK and Europe including original programming of both interview and documentary nature.
Vasudeva das (BhakTV) - for his numerous award-winning documentaries illuminating and expanding the understanding of the Vaisnava tradition in-house and through other cultures.
Prananatha das - for his technically superior documentaries on ISKCON projects and activities.
Isvara das (Touchstone Media) - for aggressive distribution of video media for over 20 years in India, Southeast Asia, Middle East.
Visnu Murti das (Bhaktivedanta Library Services) - for indefagitable distribution of video media for over 30 years in Europe.
Bal Krsna das (ITV Russia) - same as above but in C.I.S. as well as production of festival documentaries along with his late son, Krishna das.
Antardwip das - for establishing Mayapur.tv, a portal for 24hr darshans, pravacans, and live camera feeds from temples all over the world.
Vaisnava Seva das - webmaster of ISKCON Desire Tree - a portal for all types of multi-media including videos.
Nrsimhananda das (Producer-Director, ISKCON Television) - Vaisnava Film Festivals, Uplifting Cinema Pvt Ltd.
Special Achievement Awards to:
Ananta Vrindavan das (Iskconvideos.com) - for his Mongolia video series.
Pancaratna das - for all the black and white videos of Srila Prabhupada.
Vijaya Radhika dasi and Shyam Gopal das (Vrindaban Experience Productions) – for their outstanding film Reconnection.
Jagannath Kirtan das, Dhira (Dan Karpinsky) and team (Kriyate Productions) – for their For Tomorrow film.
Lauris Bolnis – for venturing into narrative filmmaking.
Shaktyavesha avatara das (Kirtan and Art Foundation) – for writing, producing and directing Long Lost and Forget to Remember.
Tamal Krishna das (Das Productions) – for the Fortunate People social media campaign.
Madhudvisa das (krishnastore.com) – for editing, subtitling; for compiling The Srila Prabhupada Complete DVD Library subtitled in 20 languages.
Madhava das (BVKS) - whose Hare Krishna Media (harekrishnamedia.com) has distributed Srila Prabhupada's dvd's through his enthusiastic and tireless promotion/distribution online and at festivals all over India.[ film-festival ] [ filmmaking ] [ films ] [ mayapura ] [ vaishnava-film-festival ]