Jul 16 2014

Sustenance Woodworking – A Year in the Taiga

Published by at 1:03 pm under Documentary,Thoughts & Musings

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga is a 90 minute documentary film produced in 2010 by Werner Herzog and Dmitry Vasyukov. It follows the life of some trappers and villagers from the village of Bakhtia, along the Yenisei River, in the Siberian Taiga.


Siberia is a land mass that composes most of eastern Russia, and is larger than the size of the United States. It is largely forested, and life in much of the area has not changed much in over a hundred years. Many of the ways they sustain their lives is very similar to the ways we saw Dick Proenneke live in the documentary about his life, Alone in the Wilderness.

You may remember from a few years back on this blog, I wrote a pretty detailed account about Dick Proenneke and his adventures in Sustenance Woodworking with Hand Tools. The post is titled; The Craftsmanship of Dick Proenneke.

Dick moved to a remote region of Alaska, in the Lake Clark Wilderness and built his cabin in the late 1960’s. He developed a homesite for himself at Twin Lakes, beginning with a Cabin, Shed and Cache, and branched out from there as a naturalist, filmmaker and rather prolific daily journal writer.

Happy People is about the lives of a village of woodsmen and trappers who live by the seasons, doing whats in front of them. One of the main characters in the 90 minute documentary, Happy People: A Year in the Taiga is a man named Genadi Soloyjev.

Genadi shares with us his story of becoming a trapper in Siberia in the early 1970’s and his philosophical understandings about a Sustenance Lifestyle. He speaks at great length about woodworking and the antiquity of what is known and understood about working wood. We get to watch as he works while visiting with us, adeptly performing the work he needs to accomplish.


We learn of how he feels about the tools of this work, the skill, and the craftsmanship. We watch as Genadi shows us his skills with an axe, maul and wedge. The axe is and has obviously been a tool of his lifestyle for years, and he wields it as if he were simply pointing a finger.

I have to admit, this is one of the better documentaries I have seen in a long time. Not many documentaries produced lately are as absorbingly informative, while at the same time relaxing as I found this documentary to be.


My grandparents were from an older generation and lived long lives. I got to see and learn a lot of these sorts of tasks when I was young. They had much to do and did what needed done. They didn’t over-think the methods, but went with what they had once been shown to do, and those methods worked great. Still do. My folks came up learning this and in many ways, it was passed on. I remember similar philosophies shared with me when I was young, and so much of Genadi shared as he spoke was familiar to me.

Genadi shares some of these philosophies with his son as we watch, while admonishing in a mentoring way what will happen if we do not observe the nature of the wood itself. In another woodworking moment, Genadi shares a stream of philosophical thought that I’d like to share:


“As they say, you can take away anything from a man. His health and wealth and such like, but you can’t take away his craftsman skills. Once you learn a trade, you’ll always know your trade for the rest of your life. You agree?”

“Naturally, you pick up things from others as you go along – A bit here, a bit there, add your own improvements. You gotta see something – someones gotta tell you something. And you know, you can’t reinvent the bicycle. All these techniques have been invented long before your time, honed to perfection over the centuries.”

I feel it is worth 90 minutes of your time when you can sit and have a look. Please enjoy! Full screen capability and english narration is available. If you like, the best english language version we’ve seen of this movie is at the following link for $1.99
YouTube will request that you sign in to view this version. It is completely family appropriate content.

A Year in the Taiga

There are also some other edits of this film on YouTube, but the narration is different and much of the speaking in the film has been subtitled. Other clips with alternative soundtracks are available there as well.

Netflix has been known to stream this title at times as well. Use their search engine and search the title. It is a good documentary.

Photo Credits: Happy People: A Year in the Taiga.

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