I AM is a 2011 documentary film written, narrated, and directed by Tom Shadyac. The documentary explores Shadyac’s personal journey after a 2007 bicycle accident, “the nature of humanity” and “world’s ever-growing addiction to materialism.” The film, shot with Shadyac and a team of four, contrasts sharply with Shadyac’s previous comedic work.
Shadyac had suffered post-concussion syndrome after a 2007 bicycle accident in Virginia, experiencing months of acute headaches and hyper-sensitivity to light and noise. The injury followed the cumulative effects of previous mild head injuries Shadyac had suffered surfing, mountain biking and playing basketball.
A 2011 New York Times article stated that: “the symptoms of a concussion [didn't] go away. Something as simple as a trip to the grocery store was painful for Shadyac, whose brain was unable to filter various stimuli.
After medical treatments failed to help, he isolated himself completely, sleeping in his closet and walling the windows of his mobile home with black-out curtains. As his symptoms finally began to subside, the director wanted to share his inner quest in the way he knew best: through film.” Shadyac likened the experience to Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell.
Shadyac subsequently gave away his excess fortune, opening a homeless shelter in Charlottesville, Virginia and making a key donation to Telluride, Colorado’s effort to set aside a natural area at the town’s entrance. He reoriented and simplified his life, sold his 17,000-square-foot (1,600 m2) Los Angeles mansion and moved into a trailer park — albeit the exclusive Paradise Cove park in Malibu.
In the film, Shadyac conducts interviews with scientists, religious leaders, environmentalists and philosophers including Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky, Lynne McTaggart, Elisabet Sahtouris, David Suzuki, Howard Zinn, and Thom Hartmann. The film asks two central questions: What’s Wrong With the World? and What Can We Do About it?. It is about “human connectedness, happiness, and the human spirit”, and explores themes including Darwinism, Western mores, loneliness, the economy, and the drive to war. The documentary includes animated scenes explaining scientific concepts, as well as clips from the films Wall Street and It’s a Wonderful Life.
The L.A. Times said the film “was collection of sound bites that validate the filmmaker’s point of view. What lifts the film above its dubious boilerplate assemblage of talking heads and archival images is Shadyac himself. With his gentle, self-mocking humor, he comes across as an exceptionally mellow, earnest and likable guy.” Roger Ebert gave the film a negative review, stating that the “film is often absurd and never less than giddy with uplift, but that’s not to say it’s bad. I watched with an incredulous delight, and at the end, I liked Tom Shadyac quite a lot…he offers us this hopeful if somewhat undigested cut of his findings, in a film as watchable as a really good TV commercial, and just as deep. ” Proceeds from the documentary go to the Foundation for I AM, which supports various charities.