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by Kevin MacClaren, student writer

For the past ten years, HPU has sponsored the “Evening with Humanities” program designed to heighten public awareness of humanities. This year, with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities, HPU featured one of the first Western documentaries about one of the least developed and most isolated countries in the world.

The one-hour film, “Bhutan: Taking the Middle Path to Happiness,” explores the Himalayan country’s peaceful and harmonious philosophy of life, its commitment to sustainable development, and its first steps toward a transformation into a modern nation.

The documentary was shown at the Tenney Theatre at St. Andrew’s Priory on Nov. 15, as part of a program developed and moderated by Dr. Marc Jason Gilbert, HPU’s National Endowment for the Humanities Endowed Chair in World History and Humanities. The showing of the film was followed by a question and answer session with experts on the country and a performance of traditional Bhutanese music.

The documentary focuses on the South Asian nation’s now-famous goal of increasing the amount of “Gross National Happiness” through ethical, balanced development, both spiritual and material.
Rooted in the Buddhist concept that happiness lies in the middle path (neither giving into worldly desire nor rejecting its beauty), “Gross National Happiness” was developed by Bhutan’s Fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who abdicated in favor of his 26 year-old son last year. This newly crowned Fifth King of Bhutan faces a remarkable challenge of leading his people to modernization, democracy, and the global market place, while preserving the country’s environment, culture, sovereignty.

The King himself gave the film’s producer and director, Tom Vendetti, permission to be one of the first filmmakers to visit the country. Vendetti, who has made documentaries about other cultures, said he had been fascinated by Bhutan.

“ I wanted to film in Bhutan because I thought their model to promote happiness could be one for the whole world to follow,” said Vendetti.

He also thought the film “would be a great opportunity to have this message air here (in Hawai’i) and in the United States on public television to make more people aware of Bhutan and its dedication to making its people happy.”

Vendetti was amazed at Bhutan’s ability to develop its water and energy resources without destroying its pristine rivers and forests and provide for the basic needs of its people despite its mountainous terrain. He described his experiences in Bhutan as “truly a once-in-a-lifetime and inspiring experience” and believes Bhutan’s ecologically sensitive progress along its unique development path “offers a lesson for all of us to learn and to model ourselves after.”

As a result of extensive consultations with Bhutan’s cultural experts, Vendetti’s film was made in a culturally appropriate manner. It explores the four pillars of Gross National Happiness” proposed by the government: Economic development, environmental preservation, cultural promotion, and good governance. In the film, each pillar is discussed in detail by Prime Minister Lyppo Yeshey Zimba and other government officials, as well as the local people of Bhutan.

“ The way in which the film described Bhutan was fascinating,” said Jennifer Harrington, an HPU student majoring in history. “It would be very interesting to see in the future the idea of ‘Gross National Happiness’ spread to other countries around the world.”

Although the content of the film concentrates on Bhutan’s government efforts to bring the nation into the modernized world through the idea of national happiness, the documentary offered beautiful scenic footage of the Himalayan kingdom infused with its cultural practices and traditional Bhutanese music.

The film shows that Bhutan despite begin a small third world country, “it is truly making an effort to take care of its people by preserving its environment and culture, while producing balanced economic growth through the conduct of honest government.”

The film notes that even in its initial effort to “open up” to the rest of the world through the introduction of television and the Internet, Bhutan has witnessed a rise in crime and cultural dislocation. However, the film leaves little doubt that the Bhutanese people look forward to the future with optimism.

HPU students who would like to view the film, “Bhutan: Taking the Middle Path to Happiness” can check out a copy at the LAC center at the downtown Honolulu campus.



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