Are you happy?

Today we launched The Are you happy? Project website. The project invites people to provide their answers to the question which provoked such a memorable response when it was posed by Marceline Loridan and Nadine Ballot on behalf of Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin on the streets of Paris fifty years ago, in the seminal 1960 documentary “Chronicle of a Summer“. You can see clips from that classic sequence, and Rouch talking about the film (in an interview I did with him in 1991) on the website. (As I explained in an earlier post, Jean Rouch is an inspiration for the project in another way too – though at the epicentre of auteur culture he saw his film-making practice as a collaborative venture, a “shared anthropology” as he called it.)

Jean Rouch, Marceline Loridan and Edgar Morin plan the street interviews in a scene from Chronicle of a Summer.

“Chronicle of a Summer” was one of the earliest uses of 16millimetre sync sound filming so these vox pops were some of the first that were filmed and they have an engaging quality and an authenticity that still feels fresh today.  I want to find out whether it’s possible, after all this time and in a very different media context, to use the same question as the starting point for a meaningful exploration of contemporary feeling and values.

Happiness crops up in the news from time to time, but I didn’t anticipate, when I thought of making, “are you happy?” the starting point for a collaborative documentary, that it would be a topical question as it has become with David Cameron’s announcement of plans to include happiness in measures of national well-being. This isn’t a novel idea. The former King of Bhutan introduced a concept of “Gross National Happiness” back in 1972, and the idea of measuring well-being beyond the economic has been gathering steam in Western democracies in recent years.  But the UK initiative has proved controversial. Given the timing it’s being seen by many as an attempt to deflect from the harsh realities of Coalition cuts. I wonder if this debate will play into peoples’ responses to this project, though I don’t want contributions to be confined to the UK. Abdulmohsen Alajeel made a promo for the project from interviews he did in the Gulf States.

We’ll be gathering contributions via Vimeo as well as making recordings in person. If you want to keep in touch with developments please join the Facebook group or follow us on Twitter. If you have suggestions or if you’d like to get involved please do get in touch. Meanwhile, what comes to mind when I ask, are you happy? Do tell, or make a recording with someone you think we should hear from…

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