Community plays a pivotal, though sometimes incidental, role in many films about social change. The movies Happy, The Economics of Happiness, and The Bonsai People, for example, each profiles—even if obliquely–ways that community, in traditional cultures, compensates for consumption in modern cultures, with far greater returns on investment.
Happy filmmaker Roko Belic, co-founder of Wadi Rum Films, conceived his movie on what makes people happy when his friend, director Tom Shadyac (Ace Ventura, Liar, Liar, I AM, and others), handed him a New York Times article indicating that the United States ranked 23rd in happiness. Why, with all the prosperity and freedom Americans enjoy, did we rank so low? Belic and Shadyac decided to find out.
Belic began crisscrossing the globe seeking out people and cultures ranking high in happiness—despite being among the “poorest” people on earth. In Namibia’s Kalahari Desert, the Bushmen told Belic that what made them happy was doing things together—whether that was hunting game, building a hut, or caring for their children.
In Okinawa, Belic found the world’s longest-lived people, where a strong network of neighbors and friends keeps Okinawans both healthy and happy. People delight in each other’s company—the neighborhoods’ children, the produce of friends’ gardens, grieving each other’s losses. The same joys keep a large Cajun family in Louisiana happy—the bayous they live on provide all the bounty and beauty they need and their own company keeps them happy and hopeful—even when times are tough.
In The Economics of Happiness, filmmaker Helena Norberg-Hodge examines how—in resistance to globalization—communities are successfully relocalizing their economies, treasuring the rich uniqueness of each local place. The film lauds the development model of Bhutan, for example, which measures progress by increases in Gross National Happiness (GNH), rather than the Western world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Bhutan calculates the happiness index by gains in equitable social development, cultural preservation, conservation of the environment and promotion of good governance.
Thakur Singh Powdyel, Bhutan’s minister of education, who has become one of the most eloquent spokespeople for GNH, says, “It’s easy to mine the land and fish the seas and get rich. Yet we believe you cannot have a prosperous nation in the long run that does not conserve its natural environment or take care of the well-being of its people, which is being borne out by what is happening to the outside world.”
The Bonsai People is a film on the work of Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank to address the needs of some of the poorest people in the world, the women of Bangladesh. In addition to microcredit—tiny loans that enable women to start their own businesses—the Bank groups women into small communities of entrepreneurs. The women meet regularly to support each other in their fledgling enterprises, solve problems that present themselves, and even cover for each other’s loan repayments so that they all can succeed—a powerful testament to community.
One of the most profound documentaries I have seen hinting at the power of community is a new film, The Cultural Creatives, based on the work of Dr. Paul Ray and Dr. Ruth Sherry Anderson, authors of a book of the same name published in 1999. Back then, the “Cultural Creatives” were a group of 50 million people who saw the world so differently from the way it was presented by the prevailing media and political discourse that they believed they were alone. But the authors’ research gave the group a name, revealed their numbers, and the values they share: to wit, a lived spirituality, versus rote belief in religious dogma; concern for the environment elevated to the status of moral imperative; belief in the equality and power of women and the archetypal feminine; and valuing life as an opportunity to fulfill one’s purpose—not an exercise in conspicuous consumption.
As the film on Cultural Creatives reveals, there are now more than 200 million Cultural Creatives–a group emerging without anybody organizing their presence, and without anyone seeking to create political power from their existence. They are emerging simply because, as the film postulates, the growth of human consciousness cannot be stopped, no matter how much either “Moderns” or “Traditionals”–the two oppositional “mainstream” camps–ignore, deny, or resist it.
By the end of the film it is evident that this huge wellspring of people, were it to become aware of its power, could change the world. In fact, they have already begun. From the Bioneers, pioneering nature-derived solutions to our environmental crises, to Triodos Bank, whose mission is to make money work for positive social, environmental and cultural change, the Cultural Creatives are not waiting for political power. They are creating the world they want to live in now.
For more films on community, visit www.Wall of Films.com and enter “community.” You’ll find a wide assortment of “films to inspire action” that celebrate community. Many are shorts, or just ideas in progress, but all are intriguing.
It’s a whole new world…