Over 100 people packed Palo Alto/AOL’s office on Monday night for a session of the 14th United Nations Association Film Festival, which has a theme of “Education is a Human Right.”
The two films (Overnight Stay/Übernachtung and HAPPY), and the panel of psychologists and experts that followed, plunged into the age-old question of “What makes us happy?”
While the films and panelists explored happiness relative to differing cultures, they also pinpointed universal characteristics of day-to-day joy, such as companionship, purpose in life, and quality of living.
“It’s very important to open up thinking about different cultures’ views of happiness,” said HAPPY filmmaker Roko Belic at the food and drink-laden reception before the films started. Belic, who stopped by Patch en route to the film’s screening in New York, is best known for Academy Award-nominated Genghis Blues.
The first film, Overnight Stay/Übernachtung, was an eight-minute long German-language animated short, directed by Daniela Shrerer. In it, an 83-year old Jewish woman remembers the kindness of strangers on an otherwise harrowing night as a 17-year-old in Krakow, Poland.
In the 1.5 hour long HAPPY, the filmmakers makers traveled around the world, from Namibia to Japan, looking at what makes people happy. They found it in locales stretching from co-housing communities in Denmark, Brazilian beaches dotted with carefree surfers, and Bhutan, where “gross national happiness” is factored into governmental decisions.
The film made astute observations about American happiness, and how it is correlates very little with material wealth.
For example, psychologists have observed that the levels of happiness between someone who makes $5,000 a year and $50,000 are dramatic. Yet, once basic necessities have been met, the amount of money someone makes can be arbitrary: there is no contrast in happiness levels between someone who makes $50,000 and $50 million, conclude psychologists interviewed in the film.
UNAFF has been pulling in crowds since it opened on Friday night at Palo Alto’s . The free showing attracted so many audience members that many stood in the back to watch the films, which dealt with obstacles -- like poverty, domestic abuse, and war -- people triumphed over to obtain an education.
“Everyone has a right to be happy, and so many of these films show the obstacles to obtain it,” said filmmaker Dorothy Fadiman, who scurried to the screening of her film “Shattering the Myth of Aging” after the Patch/AOL showings.
A panel that followed, “Can Education Be Taught?” brought in Belic, alongside Stanford psychologists and authors. As a case-in-point, two of the panelists conducted a meditation exercise with the audience, encouraging them to hone their focus on a person in their life that brings them happiness and maintain the feeling.
The film festival lasts through Sunday, with screenings at Stanford, the Aquarius, and Tuesday in schools and the Boys and Girls Club of East Palo Alto. The shows last until 10 p.m., and all screenings are free for students and teachers.