Spiritual Cinema Circle

We recently spoke with Rebecca Blumhagen, the director of the September short film The Happiness Machine. She is an Iowa native, and a filmmaker now living in New York City.

How did you meet Carl?

I met Carl when I was 9 years old and he came with his traveling sawmill to harvest a tree that had fallen on our farm. Our families became friends, and from that point on I remember going to the Promised Land for quiet dinners, where I listened with rapt attention to the stories he would tell and the questions he asked me. And of course, I remember eating ice cream from his homemade ice cream maker, which he called The Happiness Machine.

What exactly is “The Happiness Machine?”

Practically speaking, the Happiness Machine is a bike turned upside down, connected to a motor from an old library paster, a light switch, and a gear system which reduces the speed so that when you turn the switch the pedal turns the handle on a homemade ice cream maker. It’s an invention by Carl Hays. And it makes delicious ice cream!

Is “The Happiness Machine” a reference to the Ray Bradbury short story of the same name?

Yes! "The Happiness Machine" is a short documentary that is meant to be an allegorical companion to the Ray Bradbury short story of the same title from his collection "Dandelion Wine." Ultimately the film asks the same question that Leo Auffman asks at the end of his story: What is happiness?

Why did you decide to make this film?

I work a lot as a director on other people’s ideas, which I love. But I wanted to begin to build a body of work that is closer to my own voice, and out of a deeper part of myself. I wanted to tell a story that wouldn’t be told if I didn’t tell it. I wanted to make a documentary about a question I am still working out in my own life, through the lens of someone I deeply respect, that would enrich a wider audience, who might not hear the story otherwise. And I also wanted to make a film that made me more myself at the end of it. I knew that whatever came out of my effort to make a film with Carl, that I would be better because of the time I spent listening to his interviews and studying his story and point of view. I’ve lived away from home for 15 years now, so soaking up the stories from the Promised Land connected me to where I come from. The process was every bit as rewarding as the outcome has been.

Where did you get the idea to include the illustrations and animations in the film?

First, out of necessity! There were just moments I wanted to include and didn’t have B Roll for. I didn’t want to just do the same old thing that most documentaries do, panning over old photos. I wanted to find a way to bring the photo to life that enriched the story and moved it forward, but still honored its history. I’ve directed a lot of animated videos for my day job in the last year, so I brought on my friend and frequent collaborator Erin Brown as my animator. She helped to concept all the cool things we did. She came up with the idea of walking past the photos at the beginning. I came up with the idea of roots growing out of their feet to create the map. I fell in love with the illustrator Georgie McAusland, who I found on a website called Women Who Draw, where I frequently source illustrators. I thought her style was perfect for this. When I wrote to her, she was really excited to join the team. It was a fun process, but there were lots of video calls spanning many time zones – Georgie is in London, I was in New York, Erin was in LA. Erin came up a new way of animating for this project, which she hadn’t done before, and which I love. Most of the scenes came from Georgie’s imagination. It was the best of collaborative, creative fun.

What does IDYLOCAL stand for? Is there more to that philosophy than is in the film?

IDYLOCAL is an initialism for “Independent, Do it Yourself, LOw Consumption, Agrarian Lifestyle. Carl has written many pages on this philosophy and would love to have a deeper discussion about it with anyone who has more questions!

What would you like our members to take away from seeing this film?

I hope that people will feel inspired by Carl’s commitment to his own way of life. As he says, it’s not for everyone. But he worked hard to make a life of his own choosing. And I hope people will re-think what happiness means. It isn’t always found by the traditional means or by conventional notions of “success.”

You can keep up with updates for The Happiness Machine by sending us an email – happinessmachinefilm@gmail.com, or by following us on Facebook or Instagram. You can see more from the director Rebecca Blumhagen here!


The Happiness Machine

Outstanding film.... more like this please.... Wish our young people could watch and understand the necessity of this move to enjoy Mother Earth...
We need to take better care of our world before venturing to other planets .. we are here now and there is so much beauty and resources to explore and expound on..
Since retiring I have moved to a simple 1900 home , no microwave and less "stuff" that people seem to think we need... we would not need so many gyms and other activities if we had to clean our homes, take time to plant and cook and walk to stores , less conveniences and use our bodies more to live.. And what is all this technology during to our soil, water, natural wonders????? Killing Mother Earth to go to another planet to do the same thing there.. to what end???
When will it stop? Till we destroy everything natural here... why??

Can't thank Stephen and his crew enough for bringing the spiritual Cinena to us...it has helped me to understand and grow as the cinema has.. Many blessings for all you do for us..