Tel Aviv-based sales company Cinephil has acquired world rights for feature documentary “Agent of Happiness,” which delves into the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, ahead of its upcoming Sundance Film Festival debut in the World Cinema Documentary competition.
Co-directed by Arun Bhattarai, who is Bhutanese, in tandem with Hungary’s Dorottya Zurbó, “Agent of Happiness” revolves around a 40-year-old man named Amber, who is one of the agents employed by the Bhutanese government to measure its so-called Gross National Happiness level.
In the late 1990s, Bhutan introduced a unique socioeconomic indicator called the Gross National Happiness Index, meant to ensure that economic development doesn’t disrupt traditional lifestyles. Amber, who still lives with his elderly mother, is “nevertheless a hopeless romantic who dreams of finding love: a happiness agent who is in search of his own happiness,” as the doc’s synopsis puts it.
In “Agent of Happiness,” the directors embark with Amber on a cross-country road trip meeting Bhutanese citizens from all walks of life.
“’Agent of Happiness’ is such a gem in the world of documentaries,” Cinephil managing directors Suzanne Nodale and Shoshi Korman said in a statement. “It’s an out of the ordinary journey, funny and cinematic, led by an unforgettable character, challenging and reshaping our understanding of the ever-elusive concept of happiness.”
“We feel honored that Cinephil has come on board,” commented filmmakers Bhattarai and Zurbó, whose previous Bhutan-themed doc “The Next Guardian” launched from Amsterdam’s IDFA docs fest in 2017.
“The biggest inspiration behind our new film is the government-initiated happiness survey calculating the society’s overall happiness index,” they added. “We were triggered by these numbers, how to measure feelings and life experiences with formulas, and wanted to translate this holistic act of measurement into cinematic experiences that look beyond the graphs and show the mind and soul of Bhutanese people in a country where happiness is high on the official agenda.”
“Agent of Happiness,” which will premiere in Park City on Jan. 19, is produced by Noémi Veronika Szakonyi, Máté Artur Vincze and Bhattarai. It was developed at the Points North Fellowship 2022, at True False Rough Cut Retreat 2023 and at Dok.Incubator 2023, and is supported by the Sundance Film Institute, the Catapult Film Fund, Hungary’s National Film Institute, the DeNovo Initiative and the South-Korean DMZ Docs Fund, among other entities.