The root of happiness has long inspired the works of philosophers and religious leaders. It’s an intangible subject, easy to mention but difficult to place into writing, let alone capture on film.

But a University of Montana student and his filmmaking friend plan to explore the subject when they return to Ghana this year to discover what makes the impoverished residents of one African village happy despite their circumstances.

“It’s really inspiring,” said Aidan Avery, who studied film at the Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy in Chicago. “They’re in the worst conditions I’ve ever seen, but they’re so happy constantly. They’re always having a good time, and they’ve always got a smile on their face.”

Avery, 19, and Lane Brown, a 20-year-old UM sophomore studying media arts, both graduated from Hellgate High School in 2011. They traveled to Ghana in 2009 as students on a school-building mission arranged through Hellgate by Callie Wood.

While in Africa, the two aspiring filmmakers fell in love with the people of Ekumfi Atakwa, a village of 1,000 residents. They began to reflect on the meaning of happiness: How can so many people with so little be so joyful?

“When I first showed up, it was flabbergasting – it was culture shock,” said Brown. “There’s one source of drinking water. The school was in shambles before we rebuilt it. It’s Third World status, so you’d expect not to find as much happiness as we perceived.”

At the University Center on Tuesday, with students wandering from class to class, Avery and Brown recalled their initial visit to Ekumfi Atakwa, a place they believe emanates joy and inspiration.

When they return this time with film in hand, they hope their work will leave audiences contemplating the root of happiness in its simplest form. While monetary and material wealth often shroud happiness in American culture, some believe true happiness might lie someplace deeper.

“For us, it’s as much of a learning experience as it will be for the people who watch the movie,” said Brown. “We don’t really have a set storyline, or ideas we’d like to implement into the film, as far as what kind of happiness we’re looking for. We’ll go in with an open mind and look for the answers these people would naturally give.”

Despite the cultural differences, there may be common forms of happiness – a pursuit shared by all humans regardless of country and culture. Family and friends may be one source, they suspect. Health may be another. Security, community and dreams could be contributing factor.

Theirs is a quest to find out, and to bring their discoveries home in documentary form for audiences to consider.

“They all work together and help out doing the laundry and getting the water,” Avery said of the village residents. “There are so many orphans there, but they all act as a bigger family. They don’t necessary have to be blood related to help each other out.”

Shooting a film requires more than ambition, they know. Shooting a film on the distant side of the planet costs money, and Avery and Brown have launched a campaign to raise $10,000 to help cover the logistics.

Those who donate $100 to their Kickstarter campaign can submit questions, which the filmmakers will consider posing to local villagers. Those who donate $250 will receive special thanks in the credits. Anyone offering a $2,500 donation will be named the film’s executive producer.

They plan to raise the funds locally and premier the film at the Roxy Theater in Missoula during the Documentary Film Festival. They’re leaving for Africa on March 27.

“Hopefully this film will get us some exposure,” said Avery. “I don’t know of many kids our age who are doing anything on this large a scale. We’re just looking to get our names out there a little and tell this story.”

To find out more about the film, the village of Ekumfi Atakwa, and how to donate, go to http://kck.st/ZS1WMK.

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, martin.kidston@missoulian.com or @martinkidston.

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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