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Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (DVD Review)

12 May, 2013 By: Angelique Flores

Music Box
Box Office $0.34 million
$29.95 DVD
Not rated.

There’s a reason people use the word Siberia to describe being in the middle of nowhere.

This vast expanse of untouched land is one-and-a-half times the size of the United States. In the heart of Siberia is the village of Bakhtia, with a population of about 300. It’s surrounded by an endless wilderness known as the Taiga where winters drop below 50 degrees and summers are colder than a California winter. There are no roads or trains, and Bakhtia can be reached only by helicopter and boat — the latter only during the few ice-free months of summer.

Several men here make their living as trappers, a year-round job requiring various skills and arduous work, but which also gives them a sense of freedom and independence.

This documentary, co-directed by Werner Herzog, follows several trappers over a year, tracking their work season, holidays and local traditions.

Their hunting techniques have changed little over the generations. They not only build their own traps, but also their huts, canoes, skis and even their own insect repellent out of the trees from the forest. Though their traps and tools look rudimentary, they work in a sophisticated and effective manner, having been perfected over many years using simple tools such as a wedge ax.

The film offers a simple but beautiful look at this icy wilderness and some of the happy people that inhabit it. Sadly, the native people of the area are dying off, losing some of their old ways and, for some, drowning in alcoholism.

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