Agnelli explains how the 85-minute film about Amma was inspired by the people who work tirelessly to spearhead her global humanitarian initiatives.
Looking out at the vast expanse of sea and sky before her eyes at the beach in Amritapuri, Anna Agnelli reflects upon her first meeting with Amma. The Italian documentary-maker has been on a spiritual path from a very young age. Her curiosity about the meaning of life came to her when was still just a child. But at 18 years old, when her brother died of cancer, the quest became focused.
Over the years, many fellow aspirants in meditation groups and religious studies classes told her about Amma, and she found it interesting, but did not feel the call to go to meet Amma in person. That was until she was in London in 2014 where she saw a poster about Amma’s program there.
“I can’t tell you why I saw it and I thought, ‘I should go.’ I tried to convince some friends to come, but I ended up going alone,” remembers Agnelli. “The minute I got to her for darshan, I just started crying. Many tears and no words. She was immediately open to me, and I was so touched. It was overwhelming.”
Agnelli returned for the next day’s program, and the next, and then Devi Bhava. She found out Amma’s next tour stop was in Milan and so, immediately booked the flight. After just a few weeks, she came to Amritapuri to be with Amma there. It was her first time in India.
“I spoke to so many people and heard all these stories. Every day, I was more and more mesmerised by their experiences around Amma. I was so emotional,” shares Agnelli.
What moved her most was to learn about the extensive reach of Amma’s charitable projects, especially how they are embedded in the concept of selfless service.
“It was the people. All the people that tirelessly work around her. The love and the emotion in their eyes—I was getting goosebumps. I could see how she opened their hearts and what that meant for the world,” says Agnelli.
“And that’s when I realised I have to share their stories. So, the night before I left, I asked Amma directly: ‘Can I please make a film? I would like to make a film about these people who are working around you and giving their hearts.’ And Amma said, ‘Ok.'”
Agnelli explains the result was Amma’s Way, an 85-minute documentary that tries to present the “astonishing humanitarian initiatives” that Amma has created in parallel to her darshan. From the beginning, Agnelli knew that was the film’s purpose.
It is not focused on the subtle essence of the spiritual path, but rather a way to demonstrate how spirituality can be an efficient tool to reach people in need through hospitals, food and water, shelter, schools, disaster relief—actions that have concrete results.
“Amma’s feelings become things. The spiritual part of her being is obvious, but a lot of people might not understand that. I needed to make it into a language that people could understand and relate to. That’s the humanitarian side. Nobody can deny this. You can see it,” explains Agnelli.
She also envisioned another goal—the documentary must reach people who have never heard of Amma. It must portray the depth of Amma’s work on a global scale.
“The best part for me is those people who don’t even know Amma exists—and there are many in the world—and they come to me and ask: ‘How is that possible? And who is that person? Is that a real documentary? It’s not a film?’ And I say: ‘No, it’s a documentary.’”
Amma’s Way was Agnelli’s first feature-length documentary, and so far, it has been screened in Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, and the US. During her most recent visit, it was also played in Amritapuri, which was an incredible experience for her.
Many, many people have thanked Agnelli for making the film, but for her, the best feedback came via the President of Amma Italia. Someone called the organisation to say: “Ok, I saw the documentary. I’ve never met Amma before, but I would like to come and do service for Amma.”
There is one question, however, that people persistently ask: “Why didn’t you interview Amma?”
“I never had any intention to interview Amma right from the beginning,” answers Agnelli. “You know Amma, and I think people who read this will probably know Amma. What does seeing Amma on a screen express? Of course, it speaks beautifully. But what does that really give you in terms of who and what Amma is? What percentage of that? Probably 10%?
“Meeting Amma is an experience that you cannot describe in words. That would be diminishing the Eternal Being she is. People are always curious and ask: ‘Why didn’t you interview her?’ Because you have to go and meet her.”