Get ‘Happy’ at Aspen’s MountainSummit |

Get ‘Happy’ at Aspen’s MountainSummit

Contributed photo"Happy," a documentary by Roko Belic, shows Friday at the MountainSummit festival in Aspen's Wheeler Opera House.

ASPEN – Roko Belic recognizes the value of material goods. The 39-year-old believes that “material wealth contributes to happiness if it moves you from poverty and insecurity to being out of harm’s way.”

And it could be said that Belic – who lives in a trailer park, and whose move from the San Francisco Bay area to Malibu was hazardous to his career as a maker of documentary films but beneficial to his surfing hobby – recognizes the full value of material objects. Belic observes that an accumulation of wealth beyond mere comfort has no impact on contentment – except that it might impede the pursuit of happiness.

Belic has been interested in human fulfillment “for as long as I’ve been conscious – like most people.” But his focus escalated when a friend brought up an article that pointed out that the U.S. was among the world’s wealthiest nations, yet nowhere near the happiest. Belic looked around him and found this to be true. He thought in particular about his neighbor, Tom Shadyac, whose 2010 film “I Am” explored the sources and mysteries of well-being.

“He had hit the American dream, made tons of money making comedy movies. But the people who cooked for him, took care of his gardens, were happier than the movie stars he worked with,” Belic said. Belic also thought back on a trip he had made, as an 18-year-old, to Africa. He had gone to work with civil war survivors, expecting to find a world of pain. “What I saw shocked me. The people who survived were singing and dancing, curious about me, totally alive. They had appreciation for the smallest things. They had a sense of what life was about that was in contrast to friends of mine who had everything, but didn’t have that spark.”

Shadyac advised Belic – whose first film, 1999’s “Genghis Blues,” earned an Oscar nomination – to make a movie about happiness. That project, “Happy,” shows Friday, at 8:15 p.m., in the Wheeler Opera House’s MountainSummit. Belic, and executive producer Shadyac, will be in attendance for a discussion.

Belic’s camera captures people in less-than-ideal circumstances: a rickshaw puller in an Indian slum; an American woman who was disfigured in an accident; a group of Japanese widows. But the emotional content of these lives is contentment and gratitude for what they have, especially in human companionship.

“If you look at evolution from a Darwinian perspective, you wonder why humans have flourished. We don’t have the biggest claws or largest teeth,” Belic said. “But we have the ability to cooperate and have empathy for one another.”

Belic put what he learned while making “Happy” into action. His move south from Northern California put him closer to friends he usually saw once a year. In the trailer park, he found a community that made him feel optimistic enough to have a child.

“The is doesn’t mean there aren’t jerks out there,” he said. “But we are the source of each other’s greatest happiness.”

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