Interview with Director Duy Huynh & Producer Andrew Kelly (HOW TO THRIVE)

HOW TO THRIVE, 96min., Australia, Documentary
Directed by Duy Huynh
Is there a secret formula to happiness? Positive psychotherapist Marie McLeod takes 7 people on a transformative journey to learn the secret formula to happiness The film’s premise is; if we offer the science of happiness to people experiencing struggle; what difference would it make? Is happiness a learnable skill and can we teach people skills to live a happy, healthy and meaningful life? With unprecedented access; the result is an intimate, heartfelt and hopeful film that offers a rare glimpse into the lives of 7 people who make incredible transforms as a result of learning ‘How to Thrive?’

Get to know producer Andrew Kelly & director Duy Huynh:

1. What motivated you to make this film?

Duy Huynh, Director: As a first generation Vietnamese refugee, I have my own connection to early life adversity. Some of my earliest memories of life was being lifted into a tiny fishing trawler with over a hundred others below deck; violence at sea, loss of life, inhumane refugee camps and of course watching the consequences of this experience on family and friends.

Despite the impacts from these memories I found my way through and have always considered myself one of the lucky ones. For some of my contemporaries this experience created a lasting legacy of mental health challenges and I’ve always wished I could do more to help. What separates those of us who can undergo adversity and come through the other side ok, versus those for which adversity creates ongoing struggle. I thought if we could understand this better and package it up in a helpful way, then it would be a worthwhile mission.

This film is about some of what I’ve learnt from the sciences of thriving. Turns out there’s quite a lot of research available about how to live a happier, healthier and more meaningful life. These learnable skills are so essential in a world where loneliness and mental health challenges are steeply on the rise.

My vision is for a world where these ‘thriving skills’ are available to all of us, and film is an incredible medium to not only create this awareness but inspire action. Personal action, political action and systemic change to the way we think about mental health.

Andrew Kelly, Producer: I’d been working in the corporate film production world for some time and decided it was time to take my skills and use them for social impact. Duy presented wellbeing science and positive psychology to me and I knew this was an under-represented area we could really make a difference in. A chance meeting with our now lead presenter and Positive Psychotherapist sealed the deal for me. I knew we could make this work.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

Duy Huynh & Andrew Kelly: The research for this film took 5 years. And we spent another 3 years in production through covid.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

Duy Huynh: Heartfelt and real
Andrew Kelly: Positive change

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Duy Huynh: After returning back to cellular reception after a long weekend of kick-off filming, we came back to a pandemic lock down. For 18 months, principle photography occurred on zoom and diary cams – which created an enormous obstacle. The sheer volume of material – but also dealing then with how to tell a cinematic story with scratchy, fuzzy footage.

Andrew Kelly: Covid! The uncertainty of making a film in Melbourne which went through one of the longest lockdowns in the world. The enormity, fear and anxiety about how to look after our participants through a filmmaking process let alone exploring their mental health challenges during Covid. And as a producer having to wear even more hats navigating a mountain of additional paperwork, policy and procedures to ensure we could continue producing a film safely.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Duy Huynh: I was quite moved to see people on the other side of the world resonate with our film. Whilst it deals with universal themes we can all identify with; I wasn’t sure if audiences outside of Australia would connect with it. And the responses showed me the film did indeed connect with people and made a difference.

Andrew Kelly: It was moving and exciting. We’ve not shown the film too many times outside of Australia, so there is always that doubt whether it would resonate with people from other countries. We were humbled and delighted to hear the positive feedback and observations.

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

Duy Huynh: I guess I’ve always wanted to make films; and I’ve been able to do that through our company Beyondedge for corporate & government clients. But this project for me is a personal quest to try to understand the science of happiness and contribute my voice to a global challenge of improving mental health outcomes.

Andrew Kelly: I’ve been a producer in the corporate world for some time but this is my first feature. To be honest I wasn’t too confident if I could pull it off. Feature filmmaking was a completely new ball game for me. It took a leap of faith to dive head first in to this project, but now having completed it and being connected in to the documentary film community I just love it. Recently I attended AIDC in Melbourne where filmmakers, networks and distributors converged from across the world talking about everything documentary. Documentary filmmakers are a different breed as we make films for social impact, we want to make change in the world and that aligns with my purpose.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Duy Huynh: Dead Poets Society. I saw this film just before I was selected for a scholarship to the United World Colleges. Both the film and going to such a mission driven school made me really take note of the moment Keating reads Walt Whitman; “That the powerful play goes on; and you can contribute a verse.” How to Thrive feels like it’s my contribution to the poetry of human existence.

Andrew Kelly: If there are films that I watch over and over again it tends to be light hearted old school comedies because I’m after escapism or comic relief. Think Sister Act, Mrs Doubtfire, The Birdcage or even some old school Sci Fi classics like Aliens.
But in terms of documentaries I’ve been getting into David Farriers films like Tickled, Dark Tourist and his recent release Mister Organ. I love his presenting style and down to earth yearning to get to the bottom of a story to find out what makes people tick. He has a serendipitous nature of encountering these ‘out there’ people leading odd, dark, yet fascinating lives.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

Duy Huynh: That’s a hard one. I’m not entirely sure what the scope of help is available. Funding, connection to philanthropy, more opportunities to screen the film to more audiences. Connection to distributors and networks.

Andrew Kelly: Networking and creating open forums for collaboration opportunities. In talking with many filmmakers it can seem like a lonely individualistic world and we need more ways to share ideas.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

Duy Huynh: It’s been very easy and straightforward

Andrew Kelly: I love FilmFreeway, it makes the submission process easy and straightforward.

10. What is your favorite meal?

Duy Huynh: A sushi omakase or anything seafood

Andrew Kelly: I’m a big foodie and love a vino too! It’s too hard to pick just one so let’s go boujee and say a Japanese Omakase with Champagne, a marbled melt in your mouth Steak with a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or a big bowl of ragu pasta with an Italian Nebbiolo. I’m also down for a humble Vietnamese Banh Mi or Bun Cha.

11. What is next for you? A new film?

Duy Huynh: In Q&A sessions, the consistent feedback we get is ‘if only I had known these approaches earlier in life, it would have made a big difference to the trajectory of my life’. This feedback is loud and clear in my mind and I do feel a possible next project might be a television series version of How to Thrive for young people.

Andrew Kelly: There’s so many avenues available to us and it’s about deciding where we want to focus our attention. It’s clear we have a focus in the wellbeing space and based on viewer feedback there’s demand for us to explore a version of How to Thrive for youth. Watch this space.


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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