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Want to Host a #Happy Film Screening? Read on…

January 31, 2012

By Miguel Gonzalez Jr.

Documentary filmmaker Roko Belic learned a lot about happiness over the five years he spent making “Happy,” a look at the scientific and spiritual underpinnings of that most elusive emotion. Now, in an effort to spread some happiness—and his film—Belic is launching World Happy Day on Feb. 11, a day of coordinated screenings of “Happy” around the globe.

Belic, 40, who shared an Academy Award nomination in 1999 with his brother Adrian for their documentary “Genghis Blues,” said one of the qualities that happy people have in common is a sense of connectedness to one’s community, so World Happy Day hits something of a sweet spot.

“The world of independent film distribution—despite the fact that the Internet helps—is still pretty grim. It’s extremely difficult to find ways to show your movie in theaters and have lots of people share the experience in a communal way,” Belic said. “For this film in particular it seemed important because one of the themes of the movie is community and relationships, and doing things in a group.”

He found himself facing challenges distributing “Happy,” which had a limited theatrical release in 20 theaters across the U.S. last year, and he didn’t want those challenges to keep people from seeing it.

“We couldn’t find a traditional distribution scheme that fit. Our alternative was to create an event,” Belic said. “Although people who watch in Santa Monica won’t be sitting next to someone who’s watching in Cambodia or in Hong Kong or in Mongolia, they will be part of this global experience.”

World Happy Day has succeeded in lining up that kind of group activity: The film festival of sorts has registered more than 500 screenings as of late January, in more than 40 countries across six continents—including one showing in Antarctica.

Anyone can apply to host a screening; the only requirements are that the venue have a TV and DVD player or projector, and that the audience have at least five people.

Though prospective screeners can email the “Happy” team if they want to host a screening after Feb. 11, Belic encourages viewers to join that day, and adds that the five-people minimum is no accident.

“It felt like a group of five or more would encourage people to invite people outside of their families or their core group of friends and maybe reach just beyond their most comfortable social group,” he said.

Belic explained that while watching the movie alone could be an option, he wanted people to experience it in groups as much as possible.

“My goal is that people can share this experience in a way, and talk about it, and have conversations they didn’t know were going to happen afterward,” he added. “It felt like the number five was enough people that the conversation afterward could surprise the people in the group, because there are enough people and enough different perspectives that would enable it to be a genuine discussion.”

Organizers who charge for admission must pay $5 per person, with a $100 minimum payment, while those not charging for admission receive a discounted rate depending on anticipated audience size.

“I’m very aware that nonprofit groups—people who are trying to make the world better, people challenging the cultural hum—they don’t have a lot of extra money these days. I’m one of them!” Belic said. “So we thought, it’s more important for people to see this film than pay for this film. So whoever can pay for it, wonderful, it helps us function… But I wanted to make sure the lack of money did not prevent someone from seeing the film.”

The deadline to apply for screenings in the U.S. is Feb. 1, to allow time for DVDs of the film to be mailed out to the screeners.

Like most independent filmmakers, Belic, who has a 10-month-old daughter, works to strike a balance between doing work he loves and making ends meet. He isn’t certain that World Happy Day will result in any profit.

“The truth is we don’t know yet. We did design it somewhat responsibly—there is a chance to generate revenue that will sustain us for at least another few months afterward. But it is a risk. We’re definitely investing a lot, but there is a chance we can recoup and generate something.”

The World Happy Day plan also ties into other themes unearthed in happiness research: gratitude and novelty.

Studies have shown that people who write a letter thanking somebody for something they’ve done in the past—this part’s amazing to me—even if they don’t send the letter, they get a boost in happiness that lasts for days afterward,” Belic says. “What we’ve been encouraging people to do is purchase tickets or host screenings for friends, family members and people who deserve to be thanked.”

He adds that one bit of low-hanging fruit on the happiness tree is novelty.

“If somebody wants to get a little boost of happiness, they do something they haven’t done before,” Belic says.

“Most people get a boost from some amount of novelty, and hosting a screening and being part of this global event is in itself a fairly novel experience. I’ve never been part of a global theatrical event.”

“Happy” will screen in nearly 60 AMC theaters in the U.S. as part of the cinema chain’s initiative to dedicate a select number of screens to arthouse fare, as well as in schools, yoga centers and private homes.

The Center for Consciousness and Transformation at George Mason University is also a sponsor, and the film was screened at a conference of the American Psychological Association.

Belic is looking to get audiences wider access to “Happy” across other platforms—the film had distribution deals in Australia, Japan and South Korea—but he is focused right now on World Happy Day.

“It’s my ultimate goal to make the movie available in every country on Earth.”

Correction and Clarification: Several screenings of “Happy” will take place at Lululemon stores across the country. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said yoga clothing company Lululemon was a sponsor. It also incorrectly said the American Psychological Association was a sponsor.


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