Happiness Is...Finding a Film Club? Adam Werbach Riffs

Susan Gerhard April 10, 2006

George Bush Senior’s “thousand points of light” may never have materialized, but Adam Werbach believes that millions of pixels can truly accomplish something. The youngest ever national president of the Sierra Club at 23, and founder of progressive media company Act Now Productions, Werbach could never be accused of not seeing the bigger picture. But his latest project looks to the small screen. Ironweed Films, a DVD-of-the-month club, hopes to use the most independent of films to usher in a new kind of politics, not motivated by a culture of complaint, but by the pursuit of happiness. If socially conscious films equal good times, and good times equal better politics, then Ironweed is truly onto something. Werbach may be jumpstarting a movement next Monday, April 17, when small, in-house gatherings featuring Ironweed’s Oscar-nominated documentary, “Street Fight,” uncork all over the city. Co-presented by the San Francisco Film Society, SF360 Movie Night (which you can become part of by calling 1-866-456-WEED) reverses the expected exhibition formula: It doesn’t bring the people to the screen, but brings the screen to the people. Werbach took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk about his philosophy of politics and film, and what this exploded theatrical experience portends.

SF360: You’ve done so much thinking on so many different kinds of politics. What’s the bigger picture right now?

Adam Werbach: I actually think focusing on happiness is our next great leap forward. Martin Seligman, former head of the American Psychological Association, launched the field of positive psychology around the year 2000. He pointed out in his inaugural address to the association, in the year before he gave that speech, there’d been 6,000 peer-reviewed studies on what makes people unhappy, and only 6 on what makes people happy. That was the call to stop treating sickness by talking about sickness as opposed to talking about health. Enormously interesting research has come out of it. They’ve found that there are 3 ways people get happy. One: hedonistic pleasures — sex, flat-screen TVs, comfy chairs, chocolate, food. Two: being in flow — when you’re seeing a film and writing about a film, a runner while sprinting, an actor while acting. And three: service to others — when you feel like you’re giving back and helping other people. The second two, flow and service to others, have much longer half lives. The first one, hedonism, burns bright and goes away. To my mind, this is the missing link. Now we know what to do. You don’t do service because it’s good for other people, you do it because it’s good for you. And that’s OK. And flow: does every person have a way to really engage themselves in something that makes them feel great? We can aspire to hit some of those happiness goals, as opposed to focusing on material goals that we understand. We need material goals along with them, but in the process, every child should have a chance to be thrilled and astounded at school. Every teacher should have that same opportunity as well. It