MountainSummit: Turning his back on the almighty dollar | AspenTimes.com

MountainSummit: Turning his back on the almighty dollar

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Contributed photoVeteran director Tom Shadyac, right, directs Steve Carrel in a recent shoot.

ASPEN – Tom Shadyac always had the more magnanimous values – “concern for the common good,” as he tends to call it – living in him.

Even as he became successful as a director of Hollywood comedies, starting with his first film, 1994’s “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” he maintained his regard for the environment, the welfare of humanity.

But the film industry has its way of forcing such issues to the background, with the foreground dominated by influence, your next project, and money.

“When you’re in that world, you’re not aware that you’re not doing the things that will give you a greater sense of fulfillment,” the 51-year-old Shadyac, who followed “Ace Ventura” with “The Nutty Professor,” “Liar Liar” and “Bruce Almighty.” “The driving mechanism is always the next thing, bigger and bigger – and this feeling that that’s good, to keep expanding.”

One of the first alarm bells came in 2003, when Shadyac attended, for the first time, MountainFilm in Telluride. The films about personal struggle, the talks about the environment, the overall atmosphere of looking into what it takes to improve the world, had their intended effect, bringing certain issues to the front of Shadyac’s thinking.

“It made me aware of a whole other layer, the layer of my impact on the world. When I fly privately, had big homes, consumed whatever I felt like consuming – I saw that had to be rethought,” Shadyac said. “These things depressed me.”

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A more urgent wake-up call came four years later. An enthusiastic mountain biker, Shadyac crashed badly while riding a trail in Virginia. For months he suffered from post-concussion syndrome, a time he calls as “supreme torture. I had a brain that didn’t function right, didn’t edit right, doesn’t filter properly. I thought I wouldn’t live very long,” he said.

The injury, and the frustration that followed, brought things into focus. “There are certainly other means to awakening,” he said of the accident. “But call it my own subconscious, the greater forces, God – it worked very well to knock me out of my head and into my heart. I thought, ‘When I go, I didn’t want to leave this world without having the conversation of some of these things I’d become aware of.'”

The result was a movie far different than “Ace Ventura” and “The Nutty Professor” (but one that has a good deal in common with “Patch Adams,” which starred Robin Williams as a doctor who treats his patients as much with humor and compassion as with medicine). “I Am” documents Shadyac’s growing awareness of what exactly underlies fulfillment, and includes conversations with people who agree with his premise that the answer is not in material things, and that, in fact, the pursuit of wealth is at odds with happiness.

“I had to look at my economic life. And a lot falls apart,” said Shadyac, who will engage in a discussion following a screening at 8:30 p.m. Friday at MountainSummit: MountainFilm in Aspen, at the Wheeler Opera House. He will also appear in a Coffee Talk at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in the Wheeler lobby. “In fact, money can invert your happiness. I saw that in my life. The money was isolating. I often walk into large homes now and I feel a sense of loneliness.

“But the good news is, it’s rebuilt on a more sturdy foundations. When you build it on possessions, you’re building on sand. When you build it on doing more for others, contributing to the common good, you’re building on bedrock.”

stewart@aspentimes.com