Santa Cruz Good Times

Saturday
Jul 04th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Snow Patrol

film snowSiberian fortitude highlights fascinating Russian doc, 'Happy People'

If you've seen Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World, then you know what German filmmaker Werner Herzog thinks about the terrible, unforgiving grandeur of Nature. So it's interesting that he's chosen to sponsor Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, a Russian-made documentary about hardy villagers eking out an existence as their families have done for generations on the edge of the (mostly) frozen Siberian wilderness (called the "taiga"). The original version was a four-hour documentary for Russian TV by filmmaker Dmitry Vasyukov; Herzog has edited the footage down to a fleet 90 minutes and added his own inimitable voice-over narration to bring the film to a wider audience.



Vasyukov and his team spent one year in Bakhtia, a village of 300 souls on the banks of the Yenisei River, and the surrounding taiga, recording the daily and seasonal routine of its inhabitants. It's a brutal landscape, most often blanketed in ice (including the river), except for the short summer when everything is blanketed by mosquitoes. The only way in or out is by helicopter, or boat (during the few months of the year when the river is flowing, not frozen solid).

Needless to say, the Bakhtians are a textbook example of self-reliance. Their livelihood depends on hunting and trapping sable and ermine (eating the meat and selling the pelts), and fishing for enormous (and abundant) pike, which are mostly fed to the dogs that are also essential to their survival. When the men are not off in the taiga during hunting season, they are busy felling trees, and planing the bark with hand axes to shape their sturdy snow skis, building and mending their traps, and hollowing out tree trunks by hand to build their dugout canoes.

In the spring (hardly any less icy than winter), the trappers go back into the wild to excavate the network of huts used in the trapping season out of the snow, and secure their provisions against bears. In the verdant summer—coated in homemade insect repellent distilled from burned birch bark—the villagers throw out their fishing nets, garden in greenhouses, capture driftwood off the river for firewood, and collect pine nuts. Autumn brings weeks of relentless rain; the river rises and trapping gear can be transported into remote areas of the taiga—along with dozens of loaves of bread, pre-ordered from the local bakery, that will provision the huts (naturally frozen) during the winter trapping season.

It's fascinating to watch the craftsmanship with which these people perform their tasks, using methods handed down through the centuries (including night fishing by torchlight, using what Herzog describes as "almost pre-historic tools"). Yet the Bakhtians are not a pre-industrial society by any means; the trappers navigate the taiga on snowmobiles, and make use of chainsaws, outboard motors and blowtorches, whenever they can. It's just that generations of surviving, even flourishing, in extreme conditions (30 degrees below zero is considered "unusually mild"), has bred a remarkably hardy and motivated populace.

Is the title, Happy People, ironic, given what we know of Herzog's love-hate relationship to Nature? Evidently not; the point is to praise the "industry and perseverance" of the Bakhtians—and praiseworthy it is. As one trapper explains, "Once you learn a trade, you have that trade the rest of your life ... you can take away health and wealth, but you can't take away craftsman's skills." Another says, "I'm my own man—and hunting is great fun!"
In counterpoint, we're offered a glimpse of a neighboring group of people who have somehow lost their craft skills and folk ways, and are now only fit for doing menial tasks for the Bakhtians and drinking too much. Who they are and their history may have been more fully explored in the long version, but Herzog leaves the rest of their story on the cutting-room floor. It would also be interesting to see more of how the women and children keep the home fires burning while the men are off in the wild. Still, the film works as a bracing travelogue of a fiercely exotic locale, while extolling the rewards of lives lived in pursuit of community and purpose. 
film happypeople
HAPPY PEOPLE:
A YEAR IN THE TAIGA

★★★(out of four)

Watch film trailer >>>

Directed by Dmitry Vasyukov and Werner Herzog.
A Music Box release. Not rated. 90 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

The Boards Are Back in Town

More than a century after a famed trio of Hawaiian princes first surfed in Santa Cruz, their redwood olo surfboards are returning to the Museum of Art & History

 

We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident

Saturday, July 4, is the 239th birthday of the United States, commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence (the U.S. astrology chart has Aquarius moon—freedom for its people, by its people). Cancer, a liberating and initiating sign, is the “gate” where Spirit enters matter. Cancer receives and distributes Ray 3 (Divine Intelligence) and Ray 7 (new rules, new rhythms, new free nation under God). Cancer represents an intelligent freethinking humanity that can and must create right economics for the world. This means a policy of sharing, an opportunity for the U.S. when Venus (money, resources, possessions, etc.) retrogrades July and August in Leo (the heart of the matter). The United States has a unique spiritual task for the world: to lead humanity within and toward the light, accomplished by its people who must first awaken to this task, learn discrimination and be directed by the soul to assume the Herculean task of spiritual world leadership. Let us review the first words of our Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.” Let us form that union together. The following is a review of the spiritual tasks for each sign. Read all the signs. They all apply to everyone.  

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of July 3

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Lunch is Packed

Picnic basket lunches from Your Place, plus smoked chili peppers, and new owners at Camellia Tea House

 

What would you like the Supreme Court to rule on next?

Raising the minimum wage so that those that are in poverty now can have a higher standard of life. Greanna Smith, Soquel, Nanny

 

Bruzzone Family Vineyards

Bruzzone Family Vineyards is a small operation run by Berna and John Bruzzone. Starting out a few years ago making only Chardonnay, they eventually planted Pinot Noir on their extensive property and now make this varietal as well.

 

Ty’s Eatery

Pop-up hooks up with Santa Cruz Food Lounge for healthy comfort food