The main artistic theme of VIENNAFAIR 2013 The New Contemporary – “School of Happiness” – will be introduced at the fair during the vernissage on the October 9, 2013 with a screening of the film by Harald Friedl “What Happiness Is”. Read the interview with the director to find out more about the movie.
“What Happiness Is” tells of the adventures of two happiness investigators, a man and a woman. On behalf of the King of Bhutan, they travel to the cities, valleys, and mountains of the country to ascertain the welfare of the people. In a worldwide unique project, officials from the Ministry of Happiness are underway for eight months investigating the happiness in the country on the basis of a questionnaire. Farmers and monks, traders and shamans, workers, officials, and princesses are asked about their living conditions and their sense of happiness.
Bhutan, segregated from the world for a long time, wants to develop its infrastructure and open up to the West without succumbing to materialism. The barometer for this development is the “Gross National Happiness”. A road movie to the most distant goal – happiness.
Why did you choose happiness as the topic for your film?
Harald Friedl: It was not the topic “happiness” in the first place. I was impressed by the fact that a state takes an interest in the feelings and values of its population. And when I realized during research in Bhutan that people in high positions are indeed dedicated to developing the country according to the population’s needs, I was deeply impressed and determined to make the movie.
Where did the film have its beginnings?
Harald: At a dinner in my home. My friends Heidi and Andreas had come by. And they talked about Gross National Happiness and about Bhutan. I made a note and started researching the next day.
Is it true that Bhutan has a Ministry of Happiness? What do they do?
Harald: They monitor the development of the country, of society, of the natural and social environment. Bhutan is changing rapidly. They don’t want to fall into the same traps that other countries stumbled into.
What is Gross National Happiness?
Harald: Behind it is the complex idea that everything is interrelated. For happiness you need a well-balanced life in which material things are no more important than spiritual ones, and social affairs as important as psychological or environmental ones. And according to the constitution of Bhutan the well-being of the population has got to be central for politics. Of course Bhutan is not paradisal. The Bhutanese have the same problems as we have – by and large. They are no happier than us, I think, but they are less unhappy! And they’ve got objectives.
What is the concept of the film?
Harald: Civil servants tour the country with a large questionnaire that contains more than 700 questions. We accompanied the researchers and won deep insight in the country, in the arguably largest social survey in the world, and in the individual feelings of people. For me the latter was the most touching part in it.
How did the shooting go? Were you happy?
Harald: Smoothly. But happy I was rarely. Filming can be very tough work. Many regions were difficult to access. We had to hike for three days to reach one destination on the Tibetan border – and three days back. I was happy later when things were accomplished. But while doing our work, I was too busy to feel happiness.
What was the biggest difficulty during production?
Harald: The editing. It took ages.
How is the definition and meaning of happiness different for the people of Bhutan than for Europeans?
Harald: Not necessarily. They are less biased toward material things and more toward immaterial values maybe. They like to eat and drink and party but they also like to meditate. Family and the well-being of the kids is top here and there. Having a little lot of land, a good house, a healthy life, good friends to trust …
What makes you happy?
Harald: Work, love, friendship, success, to be well accepted by others, and life in general. Good vibes of all kinds. Music, good food, and wine. Clean air, a wide horizon. A rare feeling of harmony. Certain works of art! A good story. And last not least, to be effective in what I do.
What Happiness Is
Documentary, 91 min, Austria, 2012
Director: Harald Friedl. Cameraman: Helmut Wimmer. Production: Kurt Mayer Film
With support from: The Austrian Film Institute, ORF Film/Television Agreement, FISA, Vienna Film Fund, and the Provinces of Upper Austria, Lower Austria, and Salzburg.
Time: October 9, 2013, 4:00 pm
Location: VIENNA Talks booth