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Montgomery County filmmakers explore Asian religions in PBS documentary

Potomac, Silver Spring ceremonies filmed as part of view of Eastern religions in America

by Cody Calamaio | Staff Writer

A decade of spiritual research has led three filmmakers to their third film in a documentary series that discusses the similarities and differences of seven religions in the United States.

Auteur Productions filmmakers Gerald Krell of Potomac, his son, Adam Krell of Washington, D.C., and Meyer Odze of Bethesda will premier their latest documentary "The Asian & Abrahamic Religions: A Divine Encounter in America" on Sunday at the Avalon Theatre in the District. The 105-minute documentary will later appear on public television stations across the country.

The documentary explores the beliefs of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism and their similarities and differences with the Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — discussed in the previous films, Gerald Krell said.

"I really am an ombudsman for the audience," Gerald Krell said. "It's a learning experience for me."

The filmmakers quickly discovered that they did not need to journey overseas to learn about Asian religions. Much of the film was shot in Montgomery County including Guru Gobind Singh Temple in North Potomac, Wat Thai Buddhist temple in Silver Spring, and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness Hare Krishna temple in Potomac.

Asian religions are often lumped together by the public who misunderstands their beliefs and origins, Gerald Krell said. He hopes the film will be a catalyst for discussion about Asian religions.

Adam Krell, Gerald's son and primary videographer, said at times he got swept away in the ceremonies he filmed.

"You start to forget you're just somewhere in Maryland you think you might be in India somewhere," Adam Krell said.

Devotees at the ISKCON Hare Krishna temple in Potomac welcomed the opportunity to share their religion, said Anuttama Dasa, spokesman for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

The filmmakers meshed into the crowd when they filmed Janmashtami, the celebration of Lord Krishna's birthday, Dasa said.

"I think they really enjoyed it because they kind of caught the peak holy day and cultural experience of our tradition," Dasa said.

The celebration was attended by more than 3,000 people and having a few cameras amongst the crowd was not noticed, he said. The filmmaker's presence was more palpable when they attended an intimate Vaishnava-Christian interfaith dialogue of about 20 people.

"It's a really deep discussion and then there are three guys with a sound boom or a camera, and Jerry in the middle of the thing on a chair with wheels," Dasa said. "At first it was a little intrusive and hard to focus on the conversation."

Meditation and yoga are popular amongst people of many religions, and Dasa hopes the documentary will bring understanding of where those practices come from.

"I think a lot of people are being positively affected by Eastern religious practices but they might not even know it," Dasa said.

Temples that used to be part of the landscape now have new meaning for Odze and he hopes the film will open new doors for others.

"I learned a lot academically and I learned a lot spiritually," he said. "I learned we're all pretty much the same."

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