Happy People: A Year in the Taiga

2013.deepcuts

There are big movies and there are little movies. I mean that entirely in the sense of budget and release, promotion and theatrical scope. In the United States we talk most about our wide studio releases, then homegrown smaller independent films and the big-name foreign imports. But that leaves quality filmmaking to fall through the cracks. Movies that, for one reason or another, no one seems to be talking about. There are overlooked gems, and then there are the deep cuts. The homegrown niche dramas, the Irish horror flicks, the Latin American comedies, the Scandinavian experiments in nonfiction? This year saw some extraordinary unheralded work from abroad, alongside some excellent films that came from unexpected domestic places. Here are thirteen of them.

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Happy People

After spending time the jungle to film Fitzcarraldo, legendary director Werner Herzog came away from the experience with the unique perspective that instead of being a landscape that represents life and beauty, the lushness of the jungle was an obscene, vile place that exhibited interconnection only in its collective murder. Given his apparent distaste for the jungle’s denseness, which leads to the screeching of the birds and the screaming of the trees, maybe he would have a better time traveling in the frozen vastness of Siberia? Seeing as that’s where he’s gone to film his latest documentary, Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, we’re likely to get our chance to find out. We’re going to have to wait until the film is actually released to get his full impressions of this gigantic expanse of wilderness, however, because while the film’s new trailer does open with the soothing sounds of that patented Herzog voice over narration, he mostly just introduces the setting and then let’s the gorgeous landscape photography he and co-director Dmitry Vasyukov have captured do the rest of the talking.

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Happy People

It’s not often that filmmaker Werner Herzog completes a project that actually includes the word “happy” in even its synopsis, let alone its title, but there’s apparently a first time for everything (after all, this is the guy who made no less than two films about death row in the span of a year). In his Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, Herzog and co-director Dmitry Vasyukov explore the indigenous people who live in the Siberian Taiga. Who knew people could be happy in Siberia, of all places? The documentary centers on the lifestyle of the people who live in the tiny village of Bakhtia at the river Yenisei. Only three hundred or so Siberians live there, and Bakhtia is only reachable by helicopter or boat (one does not simply walk into Bakhtia). Of course, being so cut off from modern civilization has its pluses – mainly, that you don’t have to deal with stuff like telephones or the Internet – but good luck getting running water or medical aid up there in Bakhtia. Herzog and Vasyukov’s film tracks a year for the “happy people” of the village, and looks stunning while doing it. After the break, check out our exclusive poster premiere for Happy People. Point for the Bakhtia people? Everyone gets a sled dog!

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