PETER RADER: AWAKE:
A Life of Yogananda
SK: Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) is known as the “Father of Yoga in the West.” Guru was a storyteller, and you tell the story of Yogananda’s life. What’s your favorite part of story?
PR: Yoga is everywhere today. Every town has a yoga studio. It’s almost as ubiquitous as Starbucks. And it’s amazing to think that, in large measure, all of this began with one being. AWAKE is the ultimate “fish-out-of-water” story. Yogananda hardly spoke English when he first arrived as a young man on U.S. shores. Americans had no reference points for this longhaired, androgynous, turban-wearing Swami in orange robes. They called him names like snake charmer, magician, fortune-teller. Kids would make fun of Yogananda. They’d throw apples at him when he walked down the streets. But when he spoke in front of a crowd of people, the heckling stopped immediately. He was so charming, charismatic and magnetic, he held his audience in rapt attention. American in the Roaring 20’s was primed for his message of “direct access” to the Divine through meditation. So, against all odds, a young Hindu from Bengal begins a movement that would go on to transform the life of millions. That’s my favorite part of the story.
SK: Yogananda’s life holds a certain fascination in the American culture of the 1920s, ’30, and ‘40s. You created an epic portrait of a man whose whole life was devoted to God and Self-Realization.
You have done justice to an incomparably complex, rich, and complex life, and along the way you have granted us a glimpse into his heart of the greatest yogi. Would you tell us more about your creative process?
PR: I am but one member of a team that worked tirelessly and for many years to bring this movie to life. True credit belongs to the writer/directors Paola di Florio and Lisa Leeman, who drove the vision. We shot over 300 hours of footage so the main challenge was simply distilling this into a 90-minute film. At first, we had hoped to tell Yogananda’s story by filming a tapestry of contemporary characters who were following his teachings. We had planned to use a cinéma vérité style of filmmaking, that is, observational shooting rather than talking heads. Our goal was to make an experiential film, instead of simply an informational one. But it quickly became clear that a single narrative could not contain so many threads, and that Yogananda’s own life, with its ups and downs, challenges and triumphs, was a perfect vehicle for illustrating these ancient Vedic teachings. In fact, one of the biggest breakthroughs was the moment we decided that Yogananda should narrate his own story.
by Svetlana Kim
PETER RADER (Producer)
Peter Rader has worked as a film and television writer/director for twenty years. His first script,Waterworld, was produced by Universal in 1995. He has developed numerous projects for other studios, and industry leaders such as Steven Spielberg, Dino De Laurentiis, John Davis and Mario Kazar.
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