Filmmaker Tom Shadyac is best known for comedies such as Bruce Almighty, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Nutty Professor, which have filled his bank account with plenty of green. However, Shadyac, whose newest film, I AM, lands in Denver at the Landmark Chez Artiste on April 8, found that the rewards of success didn’t lead to the fulfillment he’d hoped for. So he decided to downsize, moving out of his 17,000-square-foot mansion and into something significantly smaller — a mobile home.
“I had the big estate and I saw that it didn’t pay,” he says. “I had that kind of awakening moment in my first Beverly Hills house where I realized, ‘Oh, this didn’t do what they told me it would do.’ I had been walking into different models and experimenting, and something spoke to my heart about a very simple space.
“Everybody thought I was nuts for even considering living in a mobile home community, as nice as this one is,” he continues. “It’s still out of the paradigm, if you will, and I’ve found it quite the opposite. I’ve found community there, and I have neighbors. I have creativity. It’s simple and wonderful. So by emptying, I’ve kind of gotten full.”
Shadyac’s move to simplicity was closely followed by a life-changing bike accident that led to post-concussion syndrome. He experienced the kind of physical pain that makes one question one’s very survival. Regardless, the horrific event provided him with the impetus to craft I AM, a documentary that reflects the changes, including the move away from materialism, that had been his focal point for years. Instead of spending all his time behind the camera, Shadyac jumps to the front of the lens and interviews luminaries such as Bishop Desmond Tutu and Noam Chomsky about what’s wrong in the world today and what we can do to improve it. Notables from all trades — scientists, environmentalists, photographers, activists, authors, talk-show hosts, businesspeople and even Shadyac’s father, Richard — are featured in the 80-minute film.
Shadyac, as a searching soul, wanted to ensure that he approached his topic with an open mind while examining the issues prevalent in the world. He avoided using the reasons often given for the difficulties around the globe — war, greed, poverty and the like — as filters in his search. Doing so was not nearly as arduous a task as one might suppose.
“It was actually freeing,” he says with a laugh. “It actually was the opposite of difficult. I wouldn’t [imagine] somebody going to a doctor with a stomachache and the doctor not saying, ‘What are you eating?’
And I feel like that’s what we have done as a culture. We keep having these symptoms, but we never say, ‘What are we ingesting? How are we looking at the world? What is the undercurrent of why we have these things?’ Ultimately, the [answer] is, ‘This is just who men are. This is just who the human species is,’ and I call that into question in the movie. So it was really freeing to me. I hadn’t seen that conversation on television. I was dying to see that conversation. I think people are hungry to have that conversation, and I was thrilled to be able to talk on that level for the duration of the picture.”
Shadyac did not limit his views to the big screen alone. He set them in motion by creating a nonprofit organization, the Foundation for I AM, which receives all proceeds from the film.
“The first thing we’re going to do is free a village of slaves with an organization called Free the Slaves,” Shadyac says. “By simply going to our movie, you’re going to be participating in that.”
Moviegoers also will be participating in Shadyac’s nonprofit work if they see any of his future pictures, as his director’s fees will be put back into the Foundation for I AM. What those future creative works will be, including his next picture, remains undisclosed.
“I’ll do whatever moves me,” Shadyac says. “I would love to follow this up with a raucous comedy. I believe in the sacred space created with laughter. So I’ll just do simply what moves me, but this did not move me away from Hollywood films at all. I think Hollywood films are wonderful, you know, the work [of ] the likes of Danny Boyle with Slumdog Millionaire and Bob [Robert] Zemeckis with Forrest Gump. Those works are scripture to me.”
On the Bill
I AM screens at Landmark Chez Artiste theater from Friday, April 8, to Thursday, April 13, at Landmark Chez Artiste theater in Denver. For more info, visit http:// bit.ly/chezartiste. 2800 S. Colorado Blvd., Denver, 303-352-1992.