A Maui Filmmaker's Vision Of Bhutan

Where Gross National Happiness Is Self-Evident

A Maui Filmmaker's Vision Of Bhutan

Ever wondered if there was a place where happiness -- true inner joy -- was the only government agenda" While you realists probably answered "no", those of us idealists frequently contemplate such a place.

The country of Bhutan, located high in the Himalayan mountain range, is the real deal. A buzz has been forming over recent years about the country, and perhaps now-as our global community is desperate to find a peaceful thread to bind oft conflicting nations-Bhutan's surfacing is more than timely.

Maui-based filmmaker Tom Vendetti combined his interest in Bhutan with producers John Wehrheim, Bob Stone and Thinley Choden, and the results are being shown in coming weeks throughout Hawaii. Their film, "Bhutan: Taking The Middle Path To Happiness" debuts in the Castle Theatre at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center this Wednesday, November 7th at 5:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (two shows). The film then hops the pond to Kauai (not on the SuperFerry, we bet) for a viewing on Friday, November 16th, at 7:30 p.m., at the Kauai Community College's Performing Arts Center. Finally, the film will show on Oahu Saturday, November 17th at 7:30 p.m. at U.H. Manoa's East-West Center, in the Keoni Auditorium. A closing screening will take place on Sunday, Nov. 18th at 5:00 p.m. also on Oahu, at the U.H. Manoa's Spaulding Auditorium.

How does a Maui resident come to make a film about Bhutan" Good question. Vendetti, who had been traveling to Nepal and Tibet since 1983, was fascinated with the country of Bhutan.

"It was always seen as a Shangri-La, especially to the people in those areas, which certainly heightened the allure," said Vendetti.

Yet with the limitations of only a few hundred travel visas per year offered by the country, not to mention the hefty price tag for said visas, which exceeded $240 per day, visitation was extremely limited. (Currently, the Bhutanese government offers nearly 6,000 visas per year.)

A few years ago, Vendetti saw an exhibit at the East-West Center at U.H. Manoa depicting John Wehrheim's photos of Bhutan. The two ended the night at dinner, discussing the possibility of a documentary film project on the same subject. When it came time to draft a proposal, Thinley Choden, who works at the East-West Center, stepped in to advise the pair. Six months later, the Bhutan government accepted, and invited the filmmakers to visit.

Over the course of the 3-week shoot, Vendetti and Stone learned about the government's "Gross National Happiness" initiative from extensive interviews.

"They define happiness differently than we do," reminded Vendetti. "It's not a jumping around, ha-ha kind of happy. It's not fueled by consumerism and material things, like here. It's very Buddhist, very inner-happiness."

The Gross National Happiness, according to an interview Vendetti and Stone did with the prime minister of Bhutan, resides on 4 pillars. They are: 1. Good governing (through a transparent, democratic government that truly represents the people. Editor's note: What a concept.); 2. Preservation of the Bhutan culture; 3. Preservation of the environment; 4. Economic stability.

An example highlighted in the film of these pillars is showed through a tour of an industrial hydro-electric plant that fuels much of the country's electrical needs. The plant, which is powered by runoff from the Himalayan mountains, was built entirely underground for the sole reason of not disturbing the trees and mountains. Further, the Bhutanese worked out a deal with India, whose laborers helped build the 4-plus storey plant. Bhutan is over time paying back India for their help -- using electricity and power as payment. Genius.

"Tom Vendetti, Robert Stone and the team behind the creation of Bhutan: Taking The Middle Path To Happiness get it. They understand that one of the few tools left to do some of the Earth-shaking work so desperately needed in our times, is the work of independent filmmakers," said Maui Film Festival founder Barry Rivers. "They truly tell the stories that the world needs to see and hear."

For these and more fascinating stories on Bhutan, followed by Q&A sessions with the filmmakers, go to www.Bhutanfilm.com and purchase tickets to the screenings. All tickets are $20.

"Independent film makers... truly tell the stories that the world needs to see and hear." – Barry Rivers, founder, Maui Film Festival