Because we all need it, the world’s first Happiness Film Festival lands here this month

Remember back in 2016, when it was released in a survey by the UN that Singapore was the happiest country in the region, and the whole island immediately revolted in disbelief? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that our ranking on the World Happiness Index has since dropped from the offending 22nd to 34th in the world—a more convincing placement that’s still suspiciously high, given our daily complaints and grievances.

But for some, 34th just isn’t good enough—especially not to local organisation Happiness Initiative. Aiming to promote happiness and well-being in Singapore, the social enterprise believes that our first-world, developed status should not translate to a 34th position. As such, they’re taking matters into their own hands, and organising the world’s first Happiness Film Festival.

Taking place Mar 20-24 at The Projector, *Scape and Aliwal Arts Centre, the inaugural edition of the festival will feature just six films—each one covering different aspects of happiness. Opening it is documentary A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Valasquez Story, about well-known motivational speaker Lizzie Velasquez. Born with a rare syndrome, Velasquez had to overcome years of cyber-bullying and being called “The World’s Ugliest Woman”, before finally finding peace within.

The documentary-heavy festival will also screen Finding Hygge and Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things—two poignant pictures exploring finding happiness in the simpler things. There’s also The Work, a darker but powerful film following a four-day group therapy retreat with level-four convicts in Folsom Prison. As each man takes his turn to delve deep into his past, dehumanising tropes about redemption and rehabilitation are surfaced and turned on their head.

And it doesn’t just take a biopic to drive home a point. Get your fill of important lessons learnt from the two light-hearted picks on show. Japanese comedy-drama Survival Family starts out bleak, when a dysfunctional family awake to an apocalyptic city without electricity, but grows heartwarming as they come together to overcome trying times; while animated flick On Happiness Road investigates Taiwanese character Chi’s journey to true happiness, after she’s uprooted and moved to the US in search of it.

Aside from films, you can sign up for a string of talks and panels that aim to shed light on relevant issues. Every film is followed by a post-screening dialogue pulling together speakers from local organisations including Singapore Committee for UN Women, The School of Positive Psychology and the Singapore Kindness Movement. A fringe event, Screwed Up Moments (Mar 14), jointly hosted by *Scape even brings together speakers to share about their failures in life—to reassure us all that hey, it’s okay to fail; everyone does.

This method of using a film festival as a medium for opening conversation is nothing new; we’ve seen it done in the recent Singapore Mental Health Film Festival, and other such socially driven causes like advocating women’s rights. It’s unlikely that one festival alone will get us bumped up the World Happiness Index; but perhaps if even one person emerges from it enlightened, or a little less heavy, it’s worth having around.

Happiness Film Festival happens Mar 20-24 at The Projector, *Scape and Aliwal Arts Centre. Tickets and more information here.