Filmmaker Maria von Heland’s Search for Happiness


On the anniversary of the release of the poignant film Hector and the Search for Happiness, we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate its esteemed screenwriter, Maria von Heland!

Maria von Heland is a Swedish director and screenwriter, who has been involved in the creation of over twenty television series and films. Born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1965, Maria moved to Los Angeles in 1990. There, she received her MFA in directing at the California Institute of the Arts, where she studied under the filmmaker Alexander Mackendrick. 

Maria’s career began in the late 1990s with her debut feature film, Das Leben ist eine Baustelle (Life is All You Get). Set against the backdrop of post-reunification Berlin, the film delves into the complex lives of its characters. The film centers around Jan, a disenchanted and somewhat aimless young man in his own chaotic world, marked by an assortment of quirky and colorful characters who occupy the city’s eclectic neighborhoods. Das Leben ist eine Baustelle established from the outset Maria’s ability to capture the beauty and the complexity of the human experience through her perfectly-crafted characters. 

In 2001, Maria directed Big Girls Don’t Cry, one of her most well-loved works to date. Big Girls Don’t Cry is a coming-of-age drama about two teenage girls in Berlin, one of whom seeks revenge on her father’s lover through her daughter. The film’s authentic portrayal of young women grappling with friendship and love struck a chord with audiences and critics alike.

Along with directing, Maria is also a fantastic screenwriter. In 2014, she co-wrote Hector and the Search for Happiness, a heartwarming and thought-provoking adventure-comedy that follows the journey of Hector, a London psychiatrist who becomes disillusioned with his life and career. Feeling trapped in a routine existence, Hector embarks on a global quest to find the secret to happiness. As a screenwriter, Maria goes the philosophical route with this film, causing audiences to ponder the fundamental question of what it means to be happy, long after the credits have rolled.

Most recently, Maria wrote and directed Sunshine Eyes, a ten-part Netflix series that captures one of our biggest modern struggles— the pandemic. In Sunshine Eyes, two sisters’ dreams of a reunion are crushed when the 2020 lockdown is placed in Berlin. Through the sisters’ young and emotion-filled eyes, Sunshine Eyes allows us to process the personal toll that the pandemic has taken and continues to take. 

Maria’s journey through the world of filmmaking has been marked by a rich tapestry of stories that span genres and emotions. Her characters exist in a wide range of decades and countries— even continents. Yet with every one, she is able to accurately and poignantly depict what it means to grapple with life’s hardest questions. Her ability to connect with characters and in turn explore the complexities of the human experience has earned her a special place in the world of cinema.

© Julia Lasker (9/26/2023) FF2 Media


Read Jan Lisa Huttner’s review of Hector and the Search for Happiness here.

Watch Hector and the Search for Happiness here.

Watch Big Girls Don’t Cry here.


Featured Photo: Actor Simon Pegg in the film HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS (2014). Photo Credit: AJ Pics / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: 2JD8MXK

Bottom photo: “Maria von Heland on set, Hamburg, 2022” by Delepaak is used under Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 4.0.

Tags: Das Leben ist eine Baustelle, Hector and the Search for Happiness, Maria Von Heland, Sunshine Eyes, Swedish female filmmaker, Swedish filmmaker

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As an associate for FF2 Media, Julia writes reviews and features for films made by women. She is currently a senior at Barnard College studying Psychology. Outside of FF2, her interests include acting, creative writing, thrift shopping, crafting, and making and eating baked goods. Julia has been at FF2 for almost 4 years, and loves the company and its mission dearly.
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