Rich Howells

VIDEO PREMIERE: Scranton documentary ‘Half Empty’ explores ‘Life in America’s Unhappiest City’

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An oft-cited study of the “unhappiest” cities in the country by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard University, released in 2014 by the National Bureau of Economic Research, placed Scranton at No. 1 in a list of “the least happy American regions.”

How can someone find happiness in America’s unhappiest city? Do Scranton and Wilkes-Barre really deserve to top so many unpleasant lists? Budding indie filmmaker Kenny Luck set to find out in his short documentary “Half Empty: Life in America’s Unhappiest City,” which is premiering exclusively on NEPA Scene.

“I had two clear goals from the outset of this project. First, I wanted to see if I could handle the responsibilities of writing, shooting, and editing a short film with the hope of making a feature-length documentary sometime in the future, and second, I wanted to highlight a subject – happiness in Northeastern Pennsylvania – that I think most residents in the region would find interesting,” Luck told NEPA Scene.

“Obtaining happiness in my own life has been very difficult, and I started to think about happiness in a broader way. Then, a few months ago, I remembered hearing about a 2014 study that identified NEPA as the No. 1 least happy region in the U.S. Then, I asked myself: If I am unhappy, and I live in a region that is unhappy, what are the odds that I find happiness for myself? Pretty slim, right? But rather than take a negative view, I decided the film should be uplifting. I wanted to say to people, ‘Look, even if you are miserable, it doesn’t have to be that way.’

“In the end, I hope that is the message the audience takes away from this, that even if you’re down, you’re not alone, and that there are ways to improve your outlook.”

The 31-year-old Scranton native began filming in early January, wrapping up post-production in mid-February.

“In documentaries, subject matter can make or break your project, so with that in mind, I chose people who I thought would bring as diverse a perspective as possible. I interviewed everyone from a music producer to a clinical therapist to talk about happiness from within the perspective of their profession and personal outlook,” he explained.

“Also, I decided to place myself in the film with the aim of acting as a guide for the viewer. At first, I couldn’t decide if I should use the subjective ‘I’ in a project like this, but I thought it would be better to personalize my message.”

The film was generating buzz even before its release, encouraging him to continue forward with future projects.

“After I decided to do this project, I was surprised by the amount of interest and enthusiasm people had for it. For example, I wanted to use all local musicians and bands in this film and, after I put out a call for original music, the response was, frankly, overwhelming,” Luck emphasized.

“Also, I learned how to become a better documentarian. I, in part, made this film as a personal challenge to see if I could handle writing, shooting, and editing a project of this length, even though it is a ‘short,’ with the goal of creating a full feature-length film in the near future. I am happy to say that I did overcome that personal challenge, and it has inspired me to do more documentaries in the future. This is just the beginning.”

Watch another video by Luck about NEPA Scene that gives a behind-the-scenes look at the website here.