As a young documentary filmmaker looking to get started in a very competitive industry, Déjà Bernhardt had an advantage: she was living directly in a filmmaker’s dream — a non-stop heart-rending adventure that swirled perpetually around her world-famous mother, Robin Lim, a midwife with a larger-than-life personality whose humanitarian work in Indonesia had won her the Alexander Langer Award for Peace in 2006 and CNN Hero of the Year in 2011.
Déjà hardly had to travel farther than the family dinner table for ideas and inspiration for her early work. “There’s no shortage of things to film when you’re following my mother around,” says Déjà, 37.
Déjà’s filmmaking journey started in 2000, when she signed up for a video editing class in MUM’s Media & Communications department. “I was addicted after that,” she says.
Inspired by MUM’s international students from Mozambique, Déjà traveled to Africa to work on “Chimio Means Little Heart,” her first student documentary, about the transmission of AIDS through breastfeeding and the stigma that surrounds it. Next, she filmed “Ubuntu” in South Africa. Then came her feature-length documentary “Guerrilla Midwife,” which follows Déjà’s mom, Ibu Robin (“Mother Robin”), on a mesmerizing journey as she helps Indonesian women amid the wreckage of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Many of Déjà’s films have been globally influential in promoting humanitarian efforts, and continue to play in festivals worldwide.
Déjà credits her experience at MUM as being formative in her creative vision. “MUM made me the filmmaker I am today, the kind who seeks out the deeper layers in a story, who looks for how things connect up together. Which can be hard to do as a filmmaker; it’s much easier to make a film with only one storyline and one thread. It’s my nature to go as deep as I can.”
Déjà’s recent work has shifted in the direction of narrative storytelling. She’s just completed filming a TV pilot, “Returning to Ananda,” which she wrote, directed, and stars in. Shot in Fairfield, Iowa, home of MUM, the pilot is now in post-production.
“It’s about a woman who returns home to a small town,” Déjà says. “She realizes that everything she thought was missing from her life is actually right there in front of her. It’s an edgy, dark comedy. Anyone who’s ever been touched by Eastern philosophy — and especially people who are seekers — will relate to it.”
Once the pilot episode wraps, Déjà plans to pitch it to cable networks including HBO and Showtime. She has written several additional episodes which she hopes will form the start of season one.
Creators of TV pilots often find it difficult to get a foot in the door at the networks and cable stations, but Déjà will probably get her shot, thanks to her recent Student Academy Award nomination, which is no easy accomplishment.
Déjà’s 2013 narrative drama short, “The Midwife’s Husband,” (watch the trailer) won a Regional Student Academy Award, and was subsequently nominated for the National Student Academy Award, for which Deja traveled to Los Angeles to participate in Hollywood ceremonies. (Student Academy Awards® nominees have gone on to win more than 50 Oscar® nominations and Oscars.)
Born in Santa Barbara, California, Déjà Bernhardt is the oldest of eight siblings. Her parents moved the family to Maui, Hawaii when she was four, and to Indonesia when she was 15.
Déjà lives in Austin, Texas, with her daughter, Zoe, 15, and is pursuing a Master in Fine Arts in Film Production at the University of Texas with the goal of teaching filmmaking. The rest of her family, including her mother Robin Lim, remain close and maintain houses in Bali.
MUM and its teachings continue to be an influential force in Déjà’s life and work.
“Maharishi’s knowledge is part of my heart, it’s ingrained in everything I write, everything I do,” Déjà says. “I’m so lucky to have had an education at MUM and to have my TM practice. My experience at MUM was so profound. It’s where I learned that everything I do affects everything else.”
Déjà’s next film: An indie feature called Half Angel, set in Hawaii, which she hopes to shoot within the next 18 months.
Learn about degrees in Media & Communications at MUM