Upbeat doc speaks to great thinkers 

After years of scolding documentaries warning how terrible things are in the world comes Tom Shadyac’s “I Am,” which opens today. It’s not only upbeat and enjoyable, it also offers a measure of hope.

What business does Shadyac, who directed “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “Liar Liar” and “Bruce Almighty,” have in making a documentary about fixing a broken planet?

It turns out, all the business in the world.

The 52-year-old filmmaker of comedies says his already cockeyed worldview began to change as he grew more successful, but not happier.

In 2007, he got a concussion from a bicycle accident. Symptoms didn’t go away after several weeks; the fact that he had a lot of money could not help him.

He thought he was dying, which gave him courage to begin working on the film that became “I Am.” (The title comes from a famous essay by G.K. Chesterton.) Once he made this decision, his symptoms began to ease.

“I Am” includes interviews of some of the world’s great thinkers in which they ponder what is really wrong with our planet.

“I wanted people who had moved me and people who would have something to say about the subject matter, which is the root cause,” Shadyac said during a recent phone conversation.

“I didn’t want to hear the symptoms: hunger, war, poverty, etc. I started reaching out. Within 24 hours, I heard back from Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky.”

Another major character is Shadyac himself, who demonstrates that massive wealth and excessive accumulation of goods and property are examples of mental illness.

“Many say it’s a departure [for me], but some have said that this is the third in the ‘Almighty’ series and I’m the flawed character,” he says.

The movie presents the argument that people and everything on Earth are connected and the notion that the smallest gesture of generosity or goodwill from any single person will resonate; likewise, negativity also resonates.

“That’s how powerful we are,” he says. “Those things we don’t see all add to what I call the symphony. You’re adding a note. I believe that it’s scientific.”

Some will accuse the film of being lightweight or touchy-feely, but Shadyac says the story’s flip side is already out there. “If you want the detractor story, just turn on the


I Am

With Tom Shadyac, David Suzuki, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Lynne McTaggart, Ray Anderson, John Francis, Coleman Barks, Marc Ian Barasch

Written and directed by Tom Shadyac

Rated PG

Running time 1 hour 16 minutes

Note: Shadyac will appear after the 4:30, 7 and 9:30 p.m. screenings today at the Lumiere in San Francisco and after the 7:45 and 9:50 p.m. screenings Saturday at the Shattuck in Berkeley.

About The Author

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson has written about movies for the San Francisco Examiner since 2000, in addition to many other publications and websites. He holds a master's degree in cinema, and has appeared as an expert on film festival panels, television, and radio. He is a founding member of the San Francisco Film Critics... more
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