Durban - When American photography student John Griesser took a flight to India in the early 1970s on an assignment to document the Hare Krishna movement, he did not only earn credits to finish his course; it sent him on a spiritual path that changed his life.
Visiting Durban this week, Griesser (whose initiate name is Yadubara Das) is in town to promote his film Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami Who Started It All, which will show at Suncoast cinemas on February 21 and 22.
His film is a documentary on the life of Srila Prabhupada, the 70-year-old Indian religious teacher who arrived in America without support or money in the 1960s and started the Hare Krishna movement.
“The long journey towards making Hare Krishna! started almost 50 years ago in 1970, when I found myself, camera in hand, smack bang in the middle of frenetic and beautifully intoxicating India, in a little town, steeped in ancient spirituality, called Surat. It was here that I first met Swami Srila Prabhupada.
“At the time I was a student enrolled at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York doing a master’s in photography, and I had travelled to India to do my thesis on the origins of the Hare Krishna movement,” recalled Griesser.
He had also produced a documentary in 1978 that captured the spiritual and traditional cultures of India, in a documentary titled Vrindavan: Land of Krishna.
“I was not prepared for the impact of that first meeting with Prabhupada. In person, he was diminutive and yet exuded a powerful presence that was both attractive and mystifying.
“During the following months in his company, surrounded by the rich spiritual culture of India, I found never-ending sources of inspiration from behind my camera.
“I experienced something beyond explanation, and felt that I had finally come home to people and places I had known before.
“In the following years, Jean (my then girlfriend and later my wife) and I continued to document Prabhupada and his movement, up until his passing in 1977,” said Griesser.
Much of the film’s content had been shot during the Griessers’ travels with Prabhupada from 1970 to 1977.
There are about 30 interviewees in the film, including Beatles guitarist George Harrison and American poet and philosopher Allen Ginsberg.
Griesser said the movie was special because it had allowed him to tell the story of Prabhupada.
“During production we revisited Prabhupada’s extraordinary life, piecing together clips and audio of his, and telling his own story. After the release in 2017, it was good to experience the excitement of viewers who saw Prabhupada come to life on the screen,” Griesser said.