GREGORY GAN

THE THEORY OF HAPPINESS

Canada 2014 • 82 min

Producer: Drawing Bridges Films
Country of shooting: Russia/Ukraine

In a remote village outside the city of Khiarkov, Ukraine, the filmmaker meets a small but passionate group of people trying to discover happiness. They call themselves PORTOS, the Poetical Association for the Development of a Theory of Universal Happiness. Present-day members were recruited in the 1980s, when the group was under the leadership of their now-deceased guru, Yuri Davidov. They were compelled to renounce alcohol, drugs, and sexual intimacy, and to live and work on a farm tending after cows and pigs. They now work sixteen-hour days and write political poetry in their free time. Each new member is ranked on a “Pyramid of Happiness,” because their goal is to achieve universal happiness and to “enter eternity.” Through an empathetic and intimate encounter, the filmmaker negotiates his participation in PORTOS, delving into the sect’s ideology and coming to terms with his own loneliness and loss. In the process, he arbitrates his authority as a filmmaker with the leader of the sect, makes confidantes with a young woman vying for acceptance from the higher-ups, and meets the shepherd, the milk-lady, the farmhand. Together, they weave a complex story that explores a very human search for personal fulfilment, while touching on themes of power and subordination, and suffering and happiness, until an unexpected event dramatically catalyses the events of the film. 

Gregory Gan was born in Moscow, in the former Soviet Union, in 1984. When he was ten years old, his family relocated to Canada, where he grew up. Gregory has trained in anthropology at the University of Toronto (HBA, 2006), Memorial University of Newfoundland (MA, 2010), and The University of British Columbia (PhD, 2019). His research interests include intellectual history, transnational migration, autoethnography, and material culture. He has also trained as a filmmaker (Ryerson University, 2007; SoundImageCulture, 2010), having completed two feature-length ethnographic films. His current projects range from an interactive multimedia installation on Russian transnational migration, to a reinterpretation of Petrushka – a ballet composed by Igor Stravinsky – created using 3D animation, and an augmented reality book project based on his family archive. Gregory lives between Toronto, Canada and Berlin, Germany.