Merging skateboarders with lawn bowlers in What Happyns
Ric Beairsto’s 45-minute film What Happyns shows us yet again that there’s nothing quite as interesting as watching ordinary people talk.
The veteran filmmaker and author, whose resume includes creating the APTN series Mixed Blessings, initially embarked on What Happyns (its title card also reads, “Merging urban skateboarders with lawn bowlers”) as a personal project. “I live near the Stanley Park Lawn Bowling Club,” he tells the Straight, in a call from his Vancouver office. “So I was always riding my bike by there, and observing, and thinking, ‘Boy, I bet there’s some stories to be found here, and some interesting characters.”
After ingratiating himself with the club’s members and actually hitting the green himself a few times— “I was met with a fair degree of suspicion over at the Lawn Bowling Club,” he chuckles—Beairsto persuaded a handful of them to appear on camera and answer a set of what he calls “Proustian” questions; things like “What’s your biggest regret?” “Do you believe in an afterlife?” And, “Are you happy?”
Gradually, he was inspired to put the same questions to a somewhat different set of people—skateboarders. “I kinda wanted to look at people’s lives. Two groups of people in similar circumstances in that they were both part of recreational clubs, but at either end of the life journey,” he explains. “To see what similarities or differences emerged in the process.”
While Beairsto readily admits that the point of the nebulous three year project only became clear to him over time—“I was trying to approach it without any presuppositions whatsoever,” he says—the larger conceptual framework was a bit more solid. Beairsto wanted to reference both Chronique d'un été (1960), a pioneering work of cinema-verite, and Chris Marker’s 1963 film-essay, Le Joli Mai. As in the first of those films, What Happyns also includes a wraparound segment in which all the film’s participants watch the final product and share their reactions with the camera.
Although his subjects comment on a wide range of topics from religion, to love, retirement, politics, money, and even the emergent field of “East Van parenting”, the film ultimately becomes a meditation on happiness. Neither age-group seems to have more or less insight than the other, although their relative life-experiences are wildly different, like they’re from “a different planet,” as one participant muses.
But one sharp and thoughtful skater seems to yearn for a life more familiar to the older set when he declares, “What’s the key to a happy childhood? Zero video games, zero TV, zero media, zero Barney, zero digital age… Jeez, playing in the forest, being able to explore, having no doctor say you have a problem because you’re a kid…” Both groups agree on one thing: you can’t make other people happy. It’s your own job.
On the other hand, you can do your bit. Having told him that I watched What Happyns twice, thoroughly enjoyed it both times, but was still wondering quite what to make of it, Beairsto—who says he wanted to “create a work that no one could easily pin down”—responds, “I’m quite happy to hear that.”
What Happyns screens at Emily Carr at 5 and 8pm on Thursday (July 19) with Ric Beairsto in attendance, and screens continuously as part of the Low Residency Master of Applied Arts Graduate Exhibition in the Charles H. Scott Gallery from July 20-28.