My Hare Krishna Family
Local documentary wins Hare Krishna 'Oscar'
My Hare Krishna Family, a 48-minute documentary directed and produced by local film-makers Frank Opperman and Denise Slabbert, won three awards at the first Hare Krishna Film Festival in Mayapur, India, on Saturday 11 March, 2006.
Opperman, the director and narrator, says, "It's a real honour to have won the awards, not only for best film but for best soundtrack and script as well. A highlight of this production is the soundtrack which consists of a number of songs from a band of street children from Kenya called Little Gokul, and it's great that they have been recognised as well."
Slabbert, the producer, says that expanding the audience across South Africa's borders has been a real bonus: "I think it's incredible that My Hare Krishna Family has received recognition as far away as Mayapur, one of the holiest places in India. To get accolades from the international Krishna community for a documentary with a totally independent voice is praise indeed."
My Hare Krishna Family was first aired on SABC2 during August 2005 and has subsequently been rebroadcast during February 2006, as well as appearing on SABC Africa. It was produced by Darling Lama Productions in conjunction with Mafisa Media, consisting of Frank Opperman as directory and narrator; Denise Slabbert as producer; Piet Snyman as director of photography; and Tiny Laubscher as editor.
The film tells the story of Frank and his relationship with his younger sister Yvonne, a Hare Krishna devotee. The documentary follows the story of Yvonne Opperman (aka Ila Devi Dasi), her Ghanaian husband, Shastra Das, and their little son (and Frank's nephew) Ramananda Raya. The documentary was shot on two locations, the first being Frank's home in Melville, Johannesburg, when his family comes to visit from Ghana. The other location is a rural village, outside Accra, when Frank visits his Hare Krishna family in West Africa.
Yvonne Opperman and Shastra Das, who recently left Ghana and are now living in Mayapur (some 150km from Calcutta), were on hand to collect the awards that night. "It was really nerve-wracking," says Yvonne Opperman, "There were over 4000 devotees and I was really nervous."
She comments that the South African devotees attending the awards were very pleased at the outcome of a local film winning the Hare Krishna 'Oscars'.
Review from Kartik das, South Africa
South Africa is known world wide about it's discrimination between the colours of our skin, about it's apartheid era. I was only a little boy when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and I was walking in the streets and heard shouts of cheers from the black African community. After 10 years of democracy in the New South Africa, definitely the remnants of apartheid still exist and are strong in some white Afrikaner communities.
Frank Opperman is a famous comedian, actor and singer in South Africa,particularly in the Afrikaner circles. But amongst other things he hassomething even more interesting about him. He is the half brother to a very famous devotee in South Africa, Illa devi dasi. To Frank she is known as Yvonne, or Vonny for short, and what struck Frank was that he did not know his sister very well and started enquiring further about her because of her affiliation to the International Society for Krsna Consciousness. Seeing this Frank was struck with a wonderful idea on doing a documentary on the interesting and different life of his sister.
The documentary starts of with Frank clearly explaining the family tree of the Opperman family, particularly pointing out they are what we would call a typical Afrikaner family. He then moves over to a brief life of his half sister, who was known as the intellectual one and the religious one in the family. He quickly moves over to the current life style of Illa devi dasi, being a Hare Krsna. Illa devi dasi and her husband Sastra, who happens to be a Ghanaian, visited South Africa last year after Illa left South Africa to follow her spiritual masters instruction of opening a school for the children in Ghana. Sastra das being black bodied of course and Illa being white bodied made it an even more perfect opportunity to compile a documentary and also for Lord Caitanya to unfold his plan of spreading the glorious name of Krsna.
The documentary, which lasted 1 hour, was amazing as it had a full ISKCON lifestyle, including mangal arati, harinaam, prasadam and other programs. It also had one on one questions with Maha Visnu Swami, Illa devi dasi, Sastra das, and the Opperman family. To my surprise, everyone in Illa's family was so accepting of Sastra Prabhu and her chosen lifestyle, accept for her sister who gave the typical answers of maybe this "religion" is not true, so we should just enjoy. But everyone loved Sastra.
Frank spent some time with Sastra and Illa in South Africa, invited them to the family get together where in every opportunity these devotees preached on the society and beliefs. Also Frank made the time to have Sastra Prabhu join him in his recording studio, where he commented that Sastra Prabhu is one of the most down to earth persons he has ever met. Frank also joined the devotees from the Soweto Yatra on Harinaam in the heart of Soweto (the largest gathering of Africans in South Africa and the home of Nelson Mandela). World Famous, the Soweto residents where eagerly joining in the dancing and celebration.
After their visit to South Africa, Frank and his crew joined Sastra and his family back to Ghana, where he again spent some time with them, living the life they lead. Having a personal walk with Maha Visnu Swami, many questions where posed to Maharaja and was answered. It was an overwhelming experience to watch, such a famous person enquiring so nicely. In Ghana, Frank decided to visit the many different churches and mosques. He filmed their specific services and programs, then he moves over to the ISKCON Centre and films bits of the class and kirtan. The holy name being mentioned many times through out the documentary. Finally Frank stays for the Ghana School's (Krishna Academy) awards ceremony and personally hands out gifts to the children. He ends of with his very own tune of the Maha Mantra, but impressive enough, he learnt the entire mantra and done a pretty good job singing it. He also gives a small talk to the audience, which made his sister Illa devi dasi cry.
I watched the documentary at a namahatta program, with many devotees gathered around. To be able to properly explain the impact this hour had on everyone in the room is difficult to explain over a simple letter. But through out the documentary I heard many comments from the devotees in awe about what was being screened, what has been said and what these wonderful devotees go through to do their service. It was broadcasted at prime time, screened and made available to a large portion of South Africa's population, 43 million people. I am no one, but I can complement these two wonderful devotees on their effort, dedication and service. Illa devi dasi came from a well to do family, with good education and a comfortable life. She gave up everything to start a school in Ghana, which teaches children Krsna Consciousness from a very young age. They both did not want to get married initially, but by Guru's desire and mercy they made it work. Mother Illa even mentions that their astrological charts indicate incompatibility, however they made it work with Krsna in the centre. They are examples not just to the devotee community, but the world at large.
Aspiring to be their servant,