Happy: The Movie

World Happy Day was cold and a bit snowy in Newport, RI, when we attended the screening of Happy, Roko Belic’s documentary on the science and practice of being happy.

Didn’t know Feb. 11 was World Happy Day? That’s because Belic made it up, a la Festivus of “Seinfeld” fame. But whereas Festivus included “the airing of grievances” as its holiday tradition, the day and the documentary Belic conceived was about unburdening from the same.

The screening I attended at the Jane Pickens Theater drew 80 people, and I went because I have had the fortune of seeing Belic’s previous documentary, the 1999 Academy Award nominee Genghis Blues. While Belic’s chops as a filmmaker are obvious, Happy‘s savvy way of approaching its audience was likewise notable. The film screened at 600 locations worldwide, including not only dozens of theatrical screenings, but also events in homes and other venues.

Many filmmakers would love to have their premiere become an event, but most don’t. Belic got Happy into dozens of theaters in a variety of countries by creating excitement and a sense of event around the documentary and a holiday that doesn’t exist. Filmmakers have certainly attempted to piggyback on existing events, organizations and movements, while advocacy organizations have become adept at creating “days,” “weeks” and “months” — see my previous post about Black History Month — that heighten awareness (or sales). Belic seems to have nicely combined those two routes. (More February holidays you’ve never heard of are in this list, with today among other things being National Get A Different Name Day.)

Happy is a prescriptive documentary. Not caring to simply sit back and tell its stories, it advocates. It’s an array of tales of people who have found happiness (including an impoverished Indian rickshaw driver and a former debutante scarred by a horrible accident), combined with a panel of scholars who have studied and pondered the question of happiness in human existence.

Happy played an assortment of film festivals, winning laurels at several that include Amsterdam Film Festival, the Arizona International Film Festival and the Mexico International Film Festival. Belic crowdfunded successfully last year on Kickstarter, raising more than $36,000 for shooting that took him to Denmark, India, Japan and Bhutan.

It’s a really nice film, and a Google search of Sunday’s news showed that World Happy Day may have gotten a foothold, with an amount of media coverage that surprised me, including hits with Forbes and local news. With its smart work from funding, to production, to release, Happy is a smile-inducing effort by a resourceful documentary filmmaker.

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Edward J. Delaney is a journalist, author, filmmaker and editor of DocumentaryTech, an online project that explores documentary filmmaking techniques and technology.