Arts and Culture / News

‘Bruce Almighty’ director Tom Shadyac brings his personal documentary to DU

Back in November, the Internet was abuzz about a Los Angeles Times profile of Tom Shadyac, the director of Hollywood blockbusters such as Bruce Almighty and Liar, Liar, who had given away most of his Hollywood fortune and moved into a small trailer park in Malibu, Calif. Three years after a cycling accident that nearly claimed his life — and an ensuing bout of crippling post-concussion syndrome — Shadyac returned to filmmaking, albeit in a smaller, more personal way. His new documentary I Am, which Shadyac brings to DU on Jan. 25 for a special pre-release screening, features the director talking with a variety of thinkers and doers — including scientist David Suzuki, linguist Noam Chomsky, activist Howard Zinn and Archbishop Desmond Tutu — about what’s wrong with the world and what can be done to fix it.

We caught up with Shadyac by phone to talk about the film and his journey making it.

You’ve been traveling since midsummer 2010 doing pre-release screenings. How have they been going?
We feel humbled by what we’re experiencing. It seems to be striking a chord with people and inspiring them and opening them up. The most common comment that we get is that people thank us for making a movie that expresses what they’ve always felt in their heart. That means something is translating, and that has a power to it.

Is it easy to explain what that is, or do you have to see the movie to understand it?
I think people know deep down that the way we’re doing things is not necessarily the only way to do things. That there may be a deeper, richer, truer, more beautiful way to walk in the world. And the vision we have for our society — the way we teach our kids, the way we craft our businesses — is a way, but it’s not a way that doesn’t have alternatives that might enrich all of us. I think when you see what’s going on in the environment — inarguably something is happening, whether you call it global warming or poisoning the natural world — and when you see what’s going on in the economy, which doesn’t seem to be fixable right now — nobody seems to have an answer, and that’s because there may be a deeper problem with how we’re doing our business with each other. 

How and when did the idea for the movie begin?
About 15 or 20 years ago, I started on the journey of seeking. I always wanted to know what was true. And as more and more things came my way, as I walked in the way that I had been taught in the world and was a quote, “success” in that model, I began to question it because it didn’t bear the fruits that I had been promised. Three years ago, when I faced my own death after a bike accident and I thought that I was going to die and I may have one more artistic chapter left, this is what emerged. I wanted to talk about what I had come to question and understand, and I wanted to offer that to others for their own knowledge or to invite a conversation.

After all the pain from the bike accident and the post-concussion syndrome you suffered as a result, was there any therapeutic value in making the documentary?
There was certainly an edifying, educational side. I got to sit with some great minds and spirits, people who have devoted their lives to research and work in opening up our thinking, opening up the way we do things and busting out of this cultural sack, if you will. Whether it’s a historian like Howard Zinn or a mystic poet like Coleman Barks. I got to sit with them and just radiate in their light. These are people I would have longed to meet anyway, whether I was making a movie or not, just to go and say, “Please, can I sit with you? Tell me what you know.” That was a great, great blessing for me. 

There’s been so much written about you now: that you’re the guy who left Hollywood behind, gave away his money, moved to a trailer park — is that oversimplifying your story, or is that pretty accurate?
It’s a little oversimplified. First of all, I haven’t left Hollywood. There’s this idea that I dropped out of Hollywood, and that’s not true. I was sick for a very long time, and so I wasn’t able to take on a feature film. I could take on a smaller film like this with a very limited scheduled and crew. But I believe in what Hollywood does. I believe in storytelling. I believe in the beauty of this kind of art. I simply do my business differently. I no longer want to support an economic system that I think doesn’t help. I want to be a part of the healing as much as possible. So I’ve shifted my own way of doing things. And yes, I’ve simplified my life a great deal. I live in a mobile-home community that’s beautiful; it’s not about suffering. I didn’t move away from a mansion, I moved to something beautiful and simple, and now I have more time, energy and resources to engage in work that needs to be done in the world. It’s brought a light and a purpose and a meaning to my life that is tangible.

 Shadyac appears with his new documentary, I Am, at 7 p.m. Jan. 25 in Davis Auditorium in Sturm Hall. Admission is free but an RSVP is required.





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