For director Tom Shadyac, making a film that matters meant making a film that was deeply personal. Speaking after the screening of his documentary I AM, Shadyac said that media is the most powerful when you write and create it from a personal place.
See videos of Tom's talk here.
I AM is the story of what is wrong with the world, which for Shadyac ultimately meant discovering what he believes is right with the world. The film explores the cooperation and democracy Shadyac believes is inherent in human nature and features interviews with Noam Chomsky, David Suzuki, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu among others.
After a debilitating bicycle accident that left Shadyac with post-concussion syndrome for a number of months, he went on the journey to share with audiences what some would call a utopian vision of society--an unlikely vision for the millionaire director of well-known comedies such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Bruce Almighty.
Shadyac welcomes the challenge to the idea of utopian potential. After all, "so much of what we have all been taught, you can question." For example, we're taught that supply and demand is a law, but Shadyac would argue that it's a choice.
Ultimately Shadyac's film matters because it invokes debate. Do we have choices about capitalism and our way of life? How do we choose our occupations and what changes are we capable of? Shadyac said you can't choose your occupation until you find "your character expressed in your occupation."
Shadyac chose to live his own message when he gave up the Beverly Hills mansion for a much more modest way of life. But he doesn't plan to stop making films anytime soon. Shadyac still believes in the power of comedy for well being and his own gift for comedic narrative.
Moving forward, Shadyac refuses to make any film in the future, narrative or documentary, that doesn't express something he believes in, which he said he's always done. Behind the veil of Jim Carrey's outrageous outbursts in Liar, Liar, was the message to pursue the truth instead of that you're right. In The Nutty Professor we meet a character who proves that true beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
Expression of character was the message for film students in the audience. Shadyac said "we need authenticity in our art." His advice is to make the film you most want to make and that's when it will be authentic. But Shadyac also emphasized that in the process of making any film, the greatest skill you can use is that of listening. For I AM, the interviews became the script.
Shadyac's free preview screening of I AM, which opened in DC on Friday, March 25 at the Landmark E Street Cinema, was thanks to the inspiration of MFA student Sylvia Johnson. Sylvia received her MA in Film from AU's School of Communication a couple of years ago and returned after successfully directing and producing the documentary, Alagados. The film project evolved into The Alagados Project, a non-profit that supports college education for impoverished young people in the Alagados District in and around Salvador, Brazil.
Both Tom Shadyac and Sylvia Johnson endeavored to create media that speak beyond the platform of film.