With his insightful documentary ‘Happy’, director Roko Belic attempts to tackle the timeless and elusive question of how we can gain – and keep – happiness.
By Nathan Olivieri
Roko Belic is a happy man; or, at least, a man who seems to truly understand happiness. The Academy Award nominated director and producer (his 1999 documentary, Genghis Blues, received an Oscar nod) has spent the past six years working on the documentary feature, Happy, an attempt to uncover this most abstract of concepts and answer the most quintessential question: what makes us happy?
The film features a blend of academic discussion on the emerging field of ‘positive psychology’, a number of touching character profiles from across the globe, and eminently universal lessons. Whittling 400 hours of footage down to a concise 76 minute feature, the finished product is an enjoyable and poignant exploration of human nature, transcending any concerns of a potentially saccharine outcome, and giving the viewer a great deal to contemplate in the process.
It’s the ubiquity of happiness, Belic tells FilmInk, which really supports the purpose of the film. “Happiness affects just about everything we do,” the director reveals to FilmInk over the line. “Happy people have better relationships; they’re better at their jobs; if they want to be promoted, they’re more likely to be; they’re more likely to make money; more likely to be healthy. It’s in all of our interests not only to improve our own happiness, but to improve the happiness of those around us.”
It was certainly an enormous undertaking for Belic, who struggled with converting such an intangible concept into a concrete script for a film. “It’s like making a film about love,” he jokes.
“Emotion is something that’s very important to me as a filmmaker,” he affirms. “Whenever I make a film I draw up an emotional graph, where I draw a line up for when the emotion is positive, and down for when the emotion is negative. That graph really helps me plot out the way that I tell the story.”
The relevance of the film is palpable for the everyday viewer, especially in the face of the ever-increasing consumerism permeating the Western world. Belic notes the paradox inherent in this phenomenon, for often “the more choices we have, the less satisfied we are with our decisions.” For Belic, this implied too great a focus on things that ultimately detracted from our happiness and wellbeing. A creative arts school graduate, Belic was horrified to find the amount of creative talents being misused in the advertising field.
“There are extremely powerful creative forces that are pushing us in the wrong direction,” Belic laments. “Some of the most creative and talented people in America, and in many countries, go into a business where they literally spend the bulk of their lives, and their talents and their energies, convincing us to buy things we don’t need; things that can be destructive to our wellbeing and the wellbeing of the world.”
Belic wants nothing more than to change the world with his film, to make the world a happier place: quite the lofty aim. Screenings of his film have taken place across the globe, seeking to reach as many souls as possible, with Belic adamant that, in line with the oldest of dogmas, change can start with the smallest action, and the most ordinary of individuals. He believes, however, that we must first move beyond a disempowered mentality, where we simply transfer power over to elected officials.
“The truth is we’re voting every day with our every action. If you thank someone, or don’t thank them, you’re affecting not only them but yourself as well,” Belic stresses. “I think when we recognise that we’re changing the world all the time, and we’re having either a positive or a negative impact, we can make the difference we want to see in the world.”
Happy Out now on DVD from Roadshow Entertainment.