The making of Finding Happiness was as inspiring a story as in the film. Each piece of the puzzle came together in just the right way, to bring Swami Kriyananda’s message of a spiritual way of life to the world.
Q: Where did the idea come from to make a movie about Ananda?
Devi: Through the years, I noticed that whenever Swami Kriyananda enjoyed something, whether it was books, music, or art, he would often create something in the same genre, using that form to convey a spiritual message. He loved music, and he wrote over four hundred songs. He loved books, and he wrote over a hundred books on spiritual topics.
When he heard some Celtic music that he liked, he began to write music in a Celtic vein. Those songs were recorded on two albums, Mystic Harp and Mystic Harp II, featuring Derek Bell, a harpist with the Chieftains group who was a friend of Swamiji’s.
As a young man, he wanted to write plays, and in his last years he started writing screenplays. He wrote a number of scripts, but nobody knew quite what to do with them, because we’d never worked in film before.
Nandini Cerri, who lives at Ananda Assisi and has lots of friends in the arts in Italy, introduced Swamiji to Roberto Bessi, a friend who’s a highly regarded producer, and he and Swamiji became good friends. Then Roberto introduced us to Ted Nicolau, who would become the writer-director on Finding Happiness. Shivani, the executive producer, has lived at Ananda for over forty years and played a crucial role in ensuring that the project kept moving ahead.
There was a feeling that even though we didn’t know where the money would come from, and whether the screenplay would work, it was important to find a way to do it. There were many, many false starts along the way, but we just kept forging ahead and following every new lead.
It was interesting to see how the people who joined the project all had deep respect for Swami. Ted and Roberto knew it wouldn’t be a conventional film, but that it was important because it had the potential to help many people.
I knew almost nothing about the film world. I’d heard that it could be very superficial, high-pressure and worldly, but the crew were always very respectful, and they genuinely honored what we’re doing at Ananda. We had a party at the end of the first phase of filming, and Shivani gave the crew members spiritual names. It was that kind of relationship.
When Swami saw the movie for the first time, he said, “Everyone is so natural. They’re themselves.” We were being ourselves, telling the story of Ananda, and we were able to relax with the film crew. I think it’s a big reason why the movie is so powerful, because it’s genuine.
The crew members saw something beyond the physical community. Several of them live not far away, and after the filming ended they returned and stayed at the Expanding Light and attended Sunday service.
Q: Dave Bingham, an Ananda videographer, shot a ton of footage of the filming process. It’s fun to watch, and it struck me that the crew felt relaxed at Ananda.
Devi: I think they had a good time. Of course, it wasn’t always easy. The first two weeks were particularly grueling. It was mid-summer and over 100˚ every day. The last scene, where Juliet says farewell to the community, is maybe five minutes on film, but it took all day to shoot. It was 105˚ in the temple, because we couldn’t turn on the air conditioning while the cameras were running, and the hot cinema lights had to be left on all day. They shot the scene about fifteen times, and we were soaked. We had to take breaks and use hair dryers to dry our clothes.
I don’t know if it’s typical on a film set, but there was never any disharmony. The film crew were just so even-minded and positive, and we all got into that flow. There was a bond with the crew, to the point where we felt like old friends.
I’m hoping the movie will help people recognize a way of life with the potential to give them great happiness. We have no clue if the movie will reach a mass audience, but I’m certain that people who are looking for a more spiritual life will feel, “Wow, I’ve been looking for this.”