In the small township of Jackson, Wyoming, Ron and Linda Cohen are the founders and the nucleus of Allied Film Artists, a premie-run production company. Recently they incorporated three members of Shri Hans Productions, Denver, into their staff: film-makers Malcolm Davey and Bruce Stanford, and graphic artist David Davis.
From their offices in the Hansen Building on Jackson's Broadway, Allied Film Artists produce scientific technical films: outdoor recreational movies; educational documentaries; film strips and industrial presentations; work for Divine Light Mission; as well as operating the Rocky Mountain Sound Studios. At the moment they have 15 films under way, with a minimum of nine months towards the completion of each film. Everything but lab work is done in Jackson: processing, optical effects and duplication are done in Hollywood. From one film delivered on contract to a distributor, hundreds of 16mm prints may be made and sold to a market consisting mostly of schools, libraries, social and civic groups.
Ron and Linda Cohen settled in Wyoming in 1971. They now have a three year-old son called Seth, another child expected in May, and a healthy young business enterprise. In the middle of October we visited Jackson and recorded this interview for Divine Times.
When did you begin your association with Divine Light Mission?
Linda and I saw a poster about Guru Maharaj Ji in Palo Alto (California) in July of 1971. Maharaj Ji had just come to this country for the first time. He was in Los Angeles and then he was going to give his discourse at Stanford. We decided to go there because it said "child guru from heaven" and all that. We were overwhelmed. We decided to ask for Knowledge. He was here with Gurucharnanand and we went to the
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apartment in San Francisco. There were maybe 30 people sitting there and Maharaj Ji was answering questions. In a couple of days we were initiated by Gurucharnand.
We really fell in love with Maharaj Ji. He then went to Colorado and we told him that we were photographers and filmmakers. We asked if we could join him in Boulder. We didn't go to Hans Jayanti in India that first year, but then in 1972 we went to Guru Puja in Montrose, Colorado, and Maharaj Ji said, "I'm going to Japan, do you guys want to come with me?"
You were doing filming all this time?
Right, we were filming up in Jackson Hole, making wildlife films. We left in September '72, stopped in Hawaii, then we went to Kyoto and Tokyo. Maharaj Ji went to Australia and sent us on to India to get all the work and presentation ready for Hans Jayanti at the Ram Lila Grounds in New Delhi. We spent about five weeks in India and then came back here. Linda was having our first child during the Millennium festival in Houston, so we couldn't go to that. We'd been communicating with Maharaj Ji periodically and we'd watched the transformation in Shri Hans Productions and saw that there were problems, it wasn't really going anywhere. We built our own company up and eventually assimilated Shri Hans Productions. I saw Maharaj Ji at his house in Malibu in the last week of September this year and it was my understanding that he would like to work closely with us in producing satsang, darshan, general public and premie films.
Most of Shri Hans Productions personnel are here. Malcolm Davey is working on projects for Maharaj Ji right now; George Goen works mostly on projects for Allied Film Artists, so do Bruce Stanford and David Davis. All are working hard to make this company work so we can in turn subsidize productions for Maharaj Ji.
Can you trace the history of Allied Film Artists for me?
In 1971 Linda and I were working as wildlife film-makers and we had occasional contracts that kept us busy. We were freelance producers. Maharaj Jiasked for wildlife film to use in "Who Is Guru Maharaj Ji?", the one that won the Atlanta Film Festival award. So we sent all the film we had and suddenly all the work we had done over the past two years became service because Maharaj Ji utilized it. That really thrilled us.
We continued our work in the form of educational films, and in the spring of 1975 we decided to form Allied Film Artists. It's grown incredibly in 12 months. We started off with one office; a couple of weeks later we had two offices; in a month we had the entire basement of a building and two upstairs offices. Then we took over an entire building in less than a year.
Most of our accounts are educational film distributors. We think it's "good Karma" film work because they're consciousness-raising films that teach the young people who are going to inherit what we leave in 20 to 40 years. Our message has to be subtle, but still it's there.
Is it your idea to increase the number of premies working in the company?
Only when we need more employees. I would like to have an all-premie com-
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pany skilled in all aspects of film production. Not just because they're premies, but because they have talent in audio-visual communication.
Was there a premie community in Jackson before now?
When we first arrived in 1971, there was just Linda and me. We had to give each other satsang, make each other meditate and keep going. It was like an outpost. We were surrounded by people who either didn't believe in God or who were regimented toward organized religion. We found the door closed many times when we tried to give satsang, or people were sympathetic with our belief in God but not with the fact that we would have a guru as a medium. We did find out later on that there was a girl with Knowledge who lived in the valley but she only stayed there periodically and we never met her. We saw people passing through in the summer months, but we had little to nourish ourselves other than devotion to Maharaj Ji and the practice of Knowledge.
However, we travelled a lot, and we were exposed to communities in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles and Denver. It's very easy to be sidetracked when you live by yourself. You can give yourself satsang but it's more rewarding when you're with a group of people and you can learn from their experiences; you can get insight into your own problems when you see how they have conquered problems similar to yours. I'm doing more service now, and now that I get satsang from other premies, my meditation improves. What I would tell people who are living by themselves is to hang in there. The Knowledge and Maharaj Ji will never leave you, and if you leave it you're always welcome to come back. In all honesty the one thing that has kept me going is my devotion to Guru Maharaj Ji. It's his grace that I'm devoted to him.
How many premies live here now?
Five. When we moved into Jackson we met other people, invited them to our house and had satsang. When these other premies came, these aspirants could see our strength and they decided to see Maharaj Ji in Denver on his summer tour. The other premies have contributed to the range of satsang that the aspirants can receive.
Is there any community activity?
We have rotating satsang at people's
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houses; we have darshan movies and stories; we have dinners. As the company develops, we'd like to have an open house where people can come in and ask about Guru Maharaj Ji. One of our goals is to do a film strip series to show aspirants, people who want to know what the Knowledge is about, how it changes their lives, what they have to do to be initiated. It would be something any premie community could show to aspirants.
We're really waiting on direction from Maharaj Ji. We have a series of proposals that we sent to him. We would like to do general, consciousness-raising films that do not necessarily speak of Maharaj Ji or Divine Light Mission, but just talk about the existence of God and the meaning and purpose of life. Humanities films, philosophical films.
Would you like to say anything about your experience of raising a child, starting a family?
I see in young children, the relationship between father and son or parents and child, the same relationship that we have to come to with Maharaj Ji. The child trusts me completely. In fact, Maharaj Ji uses this analogy. When our son goes somewhere he doesn't know or he needs to feel secure, he'll just hold onto a couple of my fingers or my wife's hand. We can't all hold onto Maharaj Ji physically, it's impossible, but we can hold onto this Knowledge. No matter where we go, if we hold onto that then it's like holding our father's hand and nothing will happen to us. With all the love 1 have for my son I would never take him somewhere he would get hurt. We must hold onto God spiritually by remembering the Holy Name.
When my son was very young, he would never ask me where we were going, will we ever come back, will I ever see this toy again, when will I eat next? He knows that when he's hungry he will be fed, that he'll have a place to sleep, and all his needs will be taken care of. If we have that kind of trust in God, we can see that He will take care of us as a loving parent will take care of the child. It's been a very spiritual experience for me because I can see God's hand very clearly drawing the same picture in the holy spirit-devotee relationship.
How about your relationship with your wife, Linda?
Knowledge has shown me that everybody is hiding behind a different figure, but inside, if you could take away the physical being, they're all the same people. They're all parts of the same soul. I try to see that in everybody. I try to see God hiding or playing behind different manifestations. In my wife I know that's there also, obviously. The Knowledge has made me more aware of this ultimate reality and we're both devoted to Maharaj Ji. 'That's an extra blessing we have, but we also have our shortcomings and we fight and argue like other people, but we can always catch our breath whether in the next few minutes or sometimes the next day, and say, "Look how ridiculous it is to argue."
One thing I've noticed is that sometimes we can stop a fight, say, "Wait, look what's happening. We're getting into an argument and it's not going to lead us anywhere. You and I love each other, we're not going to leave each other over this argument so why bother even getting upset?" We both meditate before we go to bed and we feel really peaceful. Similarly, we can see how our lives change when we don't meditate, how we become more irritable with our child and with each other, with our shortcomings and with the business. But this Knowledge has given us some ability to surrender. If I don't get a contract or if a film goes bad or we have a lousy shoot, I can say, "Well, whatever, God, I just want to do what I'm supposed to do." I can see how God gives and takes and we have to pay our dues to get the blessing that we do get.
Do you feel there's a significant difference in the feeling of this company of premies working together compared to other companies you've worked with?
I have worked in other production companies and seen a close camaraderie between people. I've also seen people I could never work with because of tremendous ego problems. In terms of this company, there has been a terrific change in our ability to relate with one another. Not only do we have production meetings, but we have satsang involved with it. We are all devoted and working toward the goal of serving Guru Maharaj Ji, so that makes everything much easier and clearer.
A lot of premies are considering going into business for themselves or taking their careers more seriously. Because of your experience of establishing a business from scratch, is there any advice you can offer in this regard?
One: persist. (I'm not listing these in order of importance.) Two: don't let business worries hassle your mind. If you desire to be the head of a film company, you'll get to be the head of a film company, but the route that you take may not be the one that you outlined in your mind. It's easy for me to see Maharaj Ji's hand in retrospect. But as it's happening that's when you have to say, "Whatever happens, that's fine." Just sit back, take a deep breath and go along with what's happening.
Try to always maintain integrity. Be honest and straightforward in your business dealings. Be honest and fair with everyone but remember, not everyone is a premie. People will treat you from where they're coming from, but don't get involved in that.
We can't just walk around saying, "I'm blissed out" or "I'm blown away" because we can't communicate with other people. We're not being realistic. You have to realize that you're going to play a game in the material world, and to play that game you have to know the rules. Knowledge will, keep you at peace but you have to know what is expected of you in the real world, so to speak. All manifestations of man's games are just aspects of God's supreme game.
- Don Watson and Michael McDonald
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