What is Happiness? It is a mathematical formula, based on the number of good deeds a person makes during their lifetime, with the subtraction of all their mistakes. How can one find it? Write poetry to enlighten the masses. Learn Esperanto to be able to communicate with the rest of the world. Think of the interests of the nation. How can one avoid making mistakes? The interested candidate must renounce methods of self-destruction such as swearing, smoking, drinking, or sexual intimacy. Finally, one may choose to become a Real Person, a “Theoretic of Happiness,” a member of P.O.R.T.O.S. - the “Poetical Association for the Development of a Theory of Universal Happiness,” in its Russian formulation. P.O.R.T.O.S. members take as dogma, the eclectic teachings left by their the now-deceased guru, Yura Davidov, who founded the organization in Moscow in the late 1980s. Now, they raise cattle and distribute milk to impoverished Ukrainian villages. As a matter of principle, they work long, exhaustive hours at the farm located in a remote village outside of the city of Khiarkov, Ukraine, and live under a strict regiment that requires discipline and self-sacrifice. This was the experience of the filmmaker, who has voluntarily joined this small and determined group of people fighting an ideological war in order to delve into the personal and public lives of its participants and the philosophy of the organization.
The result of three months of fieldwork is a feature-length ethnographic film, currently in post-production. Shot in full HD, it is an exploration of the eccentric aesthetic of the commune, juxtaposed with bucolic images of the Ukrainian countryside. It is a clashing, highly conflictual narrative where stakes are high and errors unavoidable. It is finally, a deeply personal negotiation with participants whose dreams and aspirations contradict the fundamental philosophy of the filmmaker. The film finds no easy answers to complex questions posed above. At the core of this film, I am exploring intersections of power and knowledge using three different readings: I am interested in the way situated actors reacted to the collapse of the Soviet Union in reproducing its ideology and principles on a scale of a small organization. On a personal level, I explore the way members of authoritarian structures attempt to psychologically manipulate the sense of identity of its participants in order to gain their complete subordination, and finally, I am interested in drawing parallels between contemporary post-Soviet state ideology and its refractions found in various communities of the former Soviet Union. This film does not ask “what is happiness?” It asks who owns the question.
|Sasha, the newest PORTOS member, tends to piglets after |
spending the night helping their mother give birth.
|Tamara, pointing to the Pyramid of Happiness, |
a graphical representation of each individual's rank,
based on their level of "happiness."
|Tania hangs up the Questionnaire, which showcase the |
eclectic writings of the guru of the sect, Yura Davidov
|Zhenia describes his expereinces in psychiatric institutions |
and prisons, where he spent over 5 years, persecuted for
charges of forming an illegal, armed organization.
|Aleksandr, one of the workers from Suma, Ukraine, |
who came to help gather hay in the summer.
Publication in the journal "Smena" (In Russian)
This article details my experiences as a participant-observer in the sect PORTOS, the "Poetical Altruists for the Development of Universal Happiness," (in its English translation).