‘I Am’ hits home for Aspen students | AspenTimes.com

‘I Am’ hits home for Aspen students

Ben Knight "I Am" filmmaker Tom Shadyac at the Wheeler Opera House last August. "I Am," a documentary about materialism and happiness, was screened for Aspen High School students Monday at the Aspen District Theatre.
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ASPEN – Monday morning was a little different for the student body at Aspen High School. Rather than racing to algebra, English lit and chemistry, all 400-plus kids went to the movies.

Actually, the movie came to them in the form of “I Am,” a documentary by Tom Shadyac, the director behind some of the most popular and most expensive comedies of recent decades – “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “Bruce Almighty” and “Liar Liar,” all starring Jim Carrey.

But “I Am” is no laughing matter. Quite the opposite as the Shadyac takes aim at such modern-day values as materialism, social Darwinism, and lives measured by numbers (box office, square footage, price tags) rather than spiritual values. The film, which features conversations with philosophers, doctors, poets and religious leaders, argues that humans not only should be more magnanimous, but that we are, in fact, biologically wired to look out for what Shadyac often calls “concern for the common good.”

Its Monday morning screening at the Aspen District Theater was the first for a high school in the country. Other Roaring Fork Valley high schools are next on the list to see the film; then, ultimately, the hope is to show it at high schools across the United States.

“When I saw ‘I Am’ in Aspen over Christmas, I knew we needed to find a way to get it into every high school in the country,” said AHS Principal Art Abelmann, who worked with Shadyac to show the film at AHS, and will work with the National Association of Secondary School Principals to have it screened nationwide. “It is an incredible film that talks about some very important themes for our students.”

The message in “I Am” comes from the heart. During his rise as a filmmaker, Shadyac tried to embody selfless values, but the culture surrounding him became an overwhelming influence: “The driving mechanism is always the next thing, bigger and bigger – and this feeling that that’s good, to keep expanding,” Shadyac told The Aspen Times when the film was screened in Aspen last summer.

But Shadyac began to have his head turned when, in 2003, he first attended Mountainfilm in Telluride, a festival devoted to consciousness about the world. But an even more urgent wake-up call came in 2007, when a mountain-biking accident left him with a concussion and, even worse, post-concussion syndrome, a condition whose symptoms included severe depression. When the darkness lifted, Shadyac had a new perspective on the world and his place in it. He sold his mansions and moved into a trailer park, where he still resides.

With “I Am,” Shadyac attempts to share some of the lessons he learned, in particular the discovery that the more he devoted himself to others, and weaned himself from material pursuits, the happier he became.

It is a message Abelmann thinks all high-schoolers should hear and, hopefully, embrace.

“They’ll get the message, and they’ll feel it,” said Abelmann, adding that because “I Am” is by the same filmmaker who made the popular Carrey films, the kids might be more inclined to listen up. “I believe most kids are looking to do the right thing, and this film is all about that. But not in a preaching, boring way.

“I think it could really make a difference for some of our students.”

Of course seeing the film is only the first step in sharing the message in “I Am.” What remains to be done is perhaps the bigger challenge.

“It’s now up to us, the faculty, to take that message and do something with it, to follow through,” said Abelmann, noting that Monday’s screening was met with applause from students and teachers, some of whom followed up the film with a classroom discussions. “It’s a pretty good feeling, with positive response as we were the pilot for what could eventually be in every high school in the country.”

jmcgovern@aspentimes.com


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