Growing up, Vikram Bhandari (Director/Producer-Father Spirit) had a deep-seated passion to paint. As a child he would lock himself in his room for hours, skipping meals and would only emerge from his room once the painting was complete. Later in his teens he picked up his father’s SLR and dabbled in photography for a while.
Fascinated by the footage he captured on the streets of London in 1999, shot with his first video camera, he immediately fell in love with ‘moving pictures’. He began experimenting with his new toy and soon knew that there would be no turning back. He shot and produced several short films featuring his brothers and friends. Although all these flicks were made for fun, they helped him hone his skills as a director and a producer.On completion of his Masters Degree in Media Communication in 2002 from Kodaikanal Christian College, India, Vikram moved to Germany. While taking a year long German language course, Vikram also spent the year shooting videos and shorts with other filmmakers. After he mastered the German language, Vikram landed a job at Fachhochschule Reutlingen, Germany (University of Reutlingen) assisting students with editing and shooting films. Meanwhile, he traveled to India whenever an opportunity arose to shoot promotional documentaries for non-profit organisations.
In the last 15 years, he has produced several documentaries for non-profits, short films and segments on real lives for broadcast- in Europe as well as in India. “Father Spirit” marks his debut as a feature-length documentary filmmaker.
Vikram is married to a beautiful German lady – Sabine and is blessed with three boys – Ruel, 8 and Lukas, 5 and Julian, 3. Currently, Vikram is based out of Mumbai, India where he is developing a few film projects and shuttles between the city and Stuttgart, Germany.
A Statement by Vikram Bhandari
In August 2008, I traveled from Germany to India to search for a story for a feature documentary. Never did I imagine that this journey was going to be providential in such a big way.
India is an enchanting country with its vibrant colors and myriad of flavors. In no other place in the world does fascination and frustration live so close to each other. It is a haven for artists, photographers and filmmakers alike. Since India is my native country, I was always attracted to stories that were able to capture the beauty of India in a unique fashion as well as the spiritual nature of the country.
During my trip home, I was introduced to Jonathan, who had been invited to India by my brother. We chatted over a cup of coffee and I shared that I was a television producer and was looking for a story for my first film. Later, while taking a walk together, Jonathan shared with me how he had traveled 5000 km in India on a shoestring budget of just $100. I found Jonathan an interesting character and I immediately thought of featuring him in my film. Though I persuaded him to come back to India to work on a project with me, he did not commit to anything.
After returning to the States, a few weeks later, he wrote to me saying that he wanted to come back with his father to work on the film. I knew that Jonathan’s father Peter was suffering from Huntington’s disease, so at first, I had a lot of questions and concerns regarding the viability of the whole thing.
Would Peter be able to undertake such a journey? Would we be able to provide proper medical support in India if things got complicated? Knowing the care a Huntington’s patient requires, initially I found it unwise to bring such a person to a totally unknown habitat, let alone the harsh environment in India.
But Jonathan, who had been a caregiver for his father, was absolute in his conviction that Peter could do it and was excited about the adventure.
Once I was convinced that Jonathan’s father actually wanted to do this, and Jonathan cleared it with Peter’s medical team, I decided to direct and produce this film. I knew that if we were successful, the documentary would speak to a lot of people around the globe, a universal adventure story with a strong father and son relationship that just had to be told. In my opinion, the more personal a story is the more universal it becomes, because at the core we all share the same human emotions.
When we started shooting back in the summer of 2009 little did I know about the journey I was embarking on. I could have never anticipated the amount of time I was going to spend on this project. But in retrospect, It couldn’t be completed earlier or be finished in a shorter period. The story was unfolding right before us and none of us could predict how it was going to turn out, unlike a scripted drama. And I think that’s the beauty and special thing about this film that though it’s not scripted and controlled like a scripted film is– it plays exactly like a fiction narrative. I think this film cannot be categorized as a particular genre and blurs the line between a documentary and fiction narrative. I have not seen anything like this before. It is a story life itself has written. And it has been worth it.
An Eagle Scout and alumnus of the University of Virginia, Jonathan Dickinson pursued his interest in humanitarian causes after graduation, including time with YWAM, Hope Builder’s International, and Agape India.
Following what he calls the “relational thread” led him into and through most of the United States and twelve countries, including Nicaragua, New Zealand, Pakistan, Nepal and India.It was in India that Jonathan first became involved with film. Vikram Bhandari (aka Bikku) was returning home from 7 years abroad to find Jonathan staying with his family in Dehradun. Jonathan had been helping Vikram’s younger brother in the Himalayas working with the needy, and taking solo excursions for the 4 months prior. “The 22 day trip across 5,000 km of India on a $100 budget really caught Bikku’s eye” Jonathan says. “He said he was interested in working on a project with me, and I liked the idea, I just had to come up with something worthwhile.”
Between these expeditions and encounters, Jonathan spent his time caring for his father. Peter suffered from Huntington’s Disease and required more attention than his mother could continue to offer alone.
Jonathan combined his passion for his father’s well-being and the rest of the world by exposing them to each other. It was caring for his father from Georgia to Virginia that Jonathan gained the confidence to embark in August of 09 for the 111 day India and Nepal trip. Between 2008 and his death in September of 2010 “Pop” and Jonathan spent nearly seven months together in communities and on the road.
“Friends often mention the impact Pop and I had on them,” says Jonathan. “Not sharing with a wider audience seemed selfish once I realized we had an opportunity to do so via film. This effort has really blossomed and I’m so grateful the project is a tribute to him, and a gift to the rest of us.”
A Statement by Jonathan Dickinson
When Pop started to get sick, he was always super grateful for everything I did for him. Whether it was giving him a ride across town or wiping up a sandwich- you would have thought I’d given him the world.
When we arrived in India he started doing better then I’d seen in a long time and he really encouraged me with the things he said. When we were leaving Ujwala’s house she asked Pop if he was ready to head up into the Himalayas and he looked at me and said “are you going?” then he looked at Ujwala and said: “I’ll go anywhere with him.”
During the course of our time in India Pop’s level of participation fluctuated but exhibited a real downward trend. By the end of our time together it was hard to be sure he had any real grasp of what we were doing together. His seeming complacency made it more difficult to keep going. What was the point if he couldn’t appreciate it? But then a few times during the last days he did shine through.
Our relationship has changed a lot since he was diagnosed with Huntington’s. I was 12 at the time and it was around then that I started to call him Pop. I’ve never been one for the conventional track and breaking with expectations isn’t a big deal in my world. When Pop started to need a lot of help, It became pretty clear to me that it was a good use of my time to provide a lot of what he needed. I certainly would rather do it than get an office job! It was exciting even at the start what I could open up for him. I could take him out to eat and leave the place clean. He couldn’t do that on his own.
One thing really led to another when it comes to taking him out and traveling other places. I’d taken dad on a couple month long trips and a few adventure oriented short trips and I felt he could come with me most anywhere I’d made myself comfortable.
India was a big step, but I’d acquainted myself with a community there and I figured it was worth the risks involved. Sure we could end up getting ourselves killed, but security has never been a preoccupation of mine. I did have to turn over a lot to fate. I didn’t have control over a lot of the variables, but the opportunity was so ridiculously awesome I had to go for it.
It really came together, and all of a sudden what I’d been leaning into for such a long time was what we were experiencing. I started telling Pop “we’re doing this thing” and that was a victory cry of sorts. We were really living from our hearts and people seemed to sense it. Everyone was personally interested in our success no matter what we were doing at the moment. Sure they may have looked at us funny and been perplexed, but whenever Pop had trouble kicking his leg over the bikes back set or something whoever was around would rush up and give him a helping hand. It was this support that really made the difference. Without the community we entered into helping, there was no way we could have done it.
I won’t sugar coat this experience, though everything I’ve said is true, I got stretched to the breaking point. There was a limit to what I could do and without the effort I was required to expend Pop was wholly incompatible with the environment I brought him into. Pop got weaker and his health suffered. Sometimes the environment made the necessary requirements impossible in a pure sense. I could only do what I could do.
Supervising Producer and Writer
Mika Holliday Lentz fell in love with making Documentary films in high school while making a historical video on the town she grew up in. So it was no surprise that straight out of the University of Georgia, she began working for Turner Broadcasting StationÕs Original Programming Department in Atlanta, Georgia.
As an intern on Turner’s Emmy- Award Winning Documentary, “Moon Shot,” she was offered a job for the production company, Lone Wolf Documentary Group, located in Portland, Maine. A Southern from birth, she moved to the frozen tundra of New England equipped with a southern accent, a deep fryer from her Grandmother, (they don’t have the right equipment in the North to fry food) and a pair of steel linked chains from her mother (how else would you drive on the snow?).As she acclimated to New England and the snow, she worked herself up the ladder from Archivist to Producer, Writer, and Director and finally Executive Producer. She worked for clients such as Discovery, History Channel, PBS, NOVA/WGBH, Fine Living Channel, and National Geographic Specials and Exhibitions. She has contributed to several award winning documentaries including “Failure is Not an Option” for History Channel, “Hitler’s Lost Sub” for NOVA, “To The Moon” for NOVA, “Pearl Harbor: Legacy of Attack” for National Geographic Specials and “Fire on the Mountain” for History Channel.
Specializing in historical/expedition filmmaking, Mika produced and co-directed a one-hour documentary for the Discovery Times Channel on a group of pilots flying undercover for the CIA in Laos during the Vietnam War titled, “The Ravens: Covert War in Laos.” In addition, she produced and wrote multiple episodes for the diving/history series, Deep Sea Detectives, on History Channel. In 2007, she created and executive produced a reality/documentary travel series, All Girl Getaways, for the Fine Living Channel.
After years of being in the business and working on everything from blue chip documentaries to Vampire indie films, Mika’s most complicated and most awarding production to date has been her two girls, Addison and Kenzie. Having kids is a lot like working in documentaries, every day is in an adventure and you never know how it will turn out.
Original Music for the Film
The songs for this film were written after long talks between friends.
Jonathan and I met, because we are both lovers of travel. We are from the same town in Central Virginia, but were introduced from afar by mutual friends, friends that brought us together because of proximity and – I’d like to think – because they could see something shared in us.
When we met, it was at a time in Jonathan’s life when he was caring for his father full time, and only occasionally could he find a free moment or the liberty to travel. When he could, we went for walks in the woods. We talked about pops, his good days and bad days, but we also talked about life and what it meant to live it to the fullest. We talked about the nature of sacrifice, and we spent time praying or just sitting and listening.Before and after Jonathan took Pops to India, we discussed the journey’s challenges, the risks and rewards, and frankly the application that has for all of us. I began organizing what we had discussed into themes that became the music for the film.
These songs are a record of those conversations.
As the son of a special-ed teacher and 2 social marketing small business owners, Michael Marosits’s upbringing taught him the value of putting selflessness, determination and hard work into the endeavors you feel passionate about. It was Michael’s passion for cooking and snowboarding that originally took him to Colorado Mountain College in Summit County, where while living in Dillon he met Jonathan. Jonathan ended up staying at Michael’s house with his roommates on multiple occasions, always bringing with him exciting news of the progress and positive reception received by the story of Father Spirit.