Key character Ma Anand Sheela appears from Switzerland via satellite for LA screening
Ma Anand Sheela, the central character in the documentary series "Wild Wild Country," appears via satellite at a Q&A following a screening of episode 1 of the Netflix show. Seated (L-R) are directors Maclain Way and Chapman Way, executive producer Mark Duplass and moderator Yvonne Villarreal of the Los Angeles Times. Tuesday, May 15, 2018. Photo by Matt Carey
Netflix is making sure Emmy voters keep the platform's binge-worthy documentary series Wild Wild Country top of mind as they fill out their nomination ballots.
The streaming giant screened episode 1 of the program for an audience at a Netflix-designed pop-up theater on the Raleigh Studios lot in Hollywood Tuesday night. After the episode, directors Chapman and Maclain Way and executive producer Mark Duplass (co-executive producer Jay Duplass was absent) joined moderator Yvonne Villarreal of the LA Times for a discussion. Towering above them on screen was Ma Anand Sheela, who viewers of the series know as the central character in Wild Wild Country. She was beamed by satellite from Switzerland where she now resides.
I have been getting lots of positive responses. People feel inspired with my conviction, with my readiness to protect the community and Bhagwan.
The series tells the story of controversial guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1931-1990) who left India in the early 1980s to form a commune, known as Rajneeshpuram, in a remote area of Eastern Oregon. Thousands of his followers headed there in search of spiritual enlightenment, but many critics accused Bhagwan of running a cult. Locals balked at the tsunami of visitors and fought the organization in a bitter legal battle.
Wild Wild Country runs six episodes, featuring extensive commentary from many who experienced firsthand the upheaval in Oregon -- both supporters of Bhagwan and his opponents. Chief among his defenders is Sheela, personal secretary to and spokesperson for Bhagwan during the period he resided in Oregon (he had taken a vow of silence, making the position of spokesperson a critical role).
Below are some quotes from Tuesday's Q&A.
We didn't know what kind of audience there was going to be or the appetite for that. But people really seem to respond to the themes and the characters and to the journey of this religious movement. So it was an awesome surprise for us.
It was a little bit of a hard pitch but luckily Netflix was on board with it from the beginning.
She's such a powerful, strong-willed character. She speaks her mind. And it felt like she had a story to tell and hadn't really been given an opportunity to explain what happened in Eastern Oregon through her lens. We were just really drawn to her story.
This experience that I have had, it was one in a million. There is nothing that I can say that would stop me from talking. For me it is life-enriching experience and one should not hide such experiences or be afraid to talk about it.
--Ma Anand Sheela on speaking about her time with Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh for Wild Wild Country
A lot of young women... say, 'Sheela is a badass. I love Sheela.'
I thought, 'What would I do if I was Sheela?' I'm a privileged white male and when I get put in a corner I claw back. And I think Sheela was a young woman from India in the 60s who is this self-made empire and she's in North America in the 70s and 80s when feminism is not what it is today and she gets put in a corner. If I'm in that place I might claw the same way.
It was an insane journey trying to take these 300 hours down to six and a half which was our ultimate run time and kind of craft the story and the narrative and weave the character journeys along with the outside story of Rajneeshpuram.
They hand-crafted this thing, the two of these guys, and Julie [Lembi] their producer and Neil [Meiklejohn] the editor.
It was seven days a week for like four or five years that you're putting this thing together... I think it was a miracle that Wild Wild Country happened.
We never discussed what the final product would be... It was an open communication. I had no idea with what prejudices they were coming to me. I had no idea of who other people they are interviewing. So I was not informed about it in that sense and even if I was informed about it it would not matter. For me, my side is very clear. For me, I know who I am and what I did. I have not to justify to anyone and this massive experience cannot be kept quiet, either, while it can help many thousands of people.
I knew my story so I went fast forward, fast forward [through my parts]. I did not have the luxury of time to sit and watch seven hours of this.
Two Way Brothers. Very well-mannered young men. I would have like to have had sons like them.
Bhagwan was a tough character to capture. For one, he took a vow of silence when they came to Rajneeshpuram so he wasn't just in our archive footage a lot. But you do your best and capture who he was... It took me until we were editing like episode 6, to be honest, that I really almost felt the gravity of what this religious movement was.
He's part of me. I breathe his teachings and I live his teachings. And I know 'til I leave his teachings will definitely live and I hope they continue to live after me, too. It is so much part of me, the love that I felt for him. That love I cannot describe, but it overwhelmed me.
...A global sensation complete with some of the most meme-worthy moments in recent television history.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.