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“I AM” enlightening film by Tom Shadyac

I AM is an utterly engaging and entertaining non-fiction film that poses two practical and provocative questions: what’s wrong with our world, and what can we do to make it better?   The filmmaker behind the inquiry is Tom Shadyac, “Ace Ventura,” “Liar Liar,” “The Nutty Professor,” and “Bruce Almighty.”   

However, in I AM, Shadyac steps in front of the camera to recount what happened to him after a cycling accident left him incapacitated, possibly for good. Though he ultimately recovered, he emerged with a new sense of purpose,

Armed with nothing but his innate curiosity and a small crew to film his adventures, Shadyac set out on a twenty-first century quest for enlightenment.  

Meeting with a variety of thinkers and doers–remarkable men and women from the worlds of science, philosophy, academia, and faith–including such luminaries as David Suzuki, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Lynne McTaggart, Ray Anderson, John Francis, Coleman Barks, and Marc Ian Barasch 

Shadyac appears on-screen as character, commentator, guide, and even, at times, guinea pig.  The result is a fresh, energetic, and life-affirming film that challenges our preconceptions about human behavior while simultaneously celebrating the indomitable human spirit.

“Death can be a very powerful motivator.”  Confronting his own mortality, he asked himself, “If this is it for me –  if I really am going to die  –  what do I want to say before I go?  What will be my last testament?”  It was Shadyac’s modern day dark night of soul and out of it, I AM was born.  But this would not be a high-octane Hollywood production.  

“I didn’t want to hear the usual answers, like war, hunger, poverty, the environmental crisis, or even greed,” he explains.  “These are not the problems, they are the symptoms  …If there is a common cause, and we can talk about it… then we have a chance to solve it.”

Ironically, in the process of trying to figure out what’s wrong with the world, Shadyac discovered there’s more right than he ever imagined.  

He learned that the heart, not the brain, may be man’s primary organ of intelligence, and that human consciousness and emotions can actually affect the physical world, a point Shadyac makes with great humor by demonstrating the impact of his feelings on a bowl of yogurt. 

And, as Shadyac’s own story illustrates, money is not a pathway to happiness.  In fact, he even learns that in some native cultures, gross materialism is equated with insanity.

Shadyac also discovers that, contrary to conventional thinking, cooperation and not competition, may be nature’s most fundamental operating principle.   Thus, I AM shows consensus decision-making is the norm amongst many species, from insects and birds to deer and primates.  

The film further discovers that humans actually function better and remain healthier when expressing positive emotions, such as love, care, compassion, and gratitude, versus their negative counterparts, anxiety, frustration, anger and fear. 

“It was a revelation to me that for tens of thousands of years, indigenous cultures taught a very different story about our inherent goodness,” Shadyac marvels.  

“Now, following this ancient wisdom, science is discovering a plethora of evidence about our hardwiring for connection and compassion, from the Vagus Nerve which releases oxytocin at simply witnessing a compassionate act, to the Mirror Neuron which causes us to literally feel another person’s pain.  

Darwin himself, who was misunderstood to believe exclusively in our competitiveness, actually noted that humankind’s real power comes in their ability to perform complex tasks together, to sympathize and cooperate.”

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