Why I made I AM
By John Ward
Writer/Director, I AM
A lot of people have been asking what inspired me to make a movie about a modern retelling of the Ten Commandments. Let’s face it, none of us can even remember them, much less actually follow them – so what’s the point?
The idea really started when I was cleaning out my desk one day and I discovered a letter I had saved from my Dad. It was written to me on the day I left for college at the University of North Carolina. Now Chapel Hill, the home of UNC, is a college town through and through. Anything and everything a college kid could want, or be tempted to want, is readily available in ample quantities.
My Dad knew this all too well. He went there too in the early and mid-60s. As a dad now myself, albeit of two kids under 5, I can imagine the sheer panic that must have been running over him the closer the U-Haul got to school.
We arrived at the dorm, unloaded my TV, stereo, and suitcases, then my folks and little sister said their good-byes. I, to be honest, was pretty excited to get them on their way so I could hunt down some of the aforementioned temptations asap!
When I returned to my room and began to unpack my duffel bag, there was the letter my Dad had zipped up on top of my clothes when I wasn’t looking. I sat down on the hard springs of my dorm bed and began to read it.
Essentially, he acknowledged that I was a grown man now. He admitted that no longer could he, or my mother, control where I go, who I see, or what I do. I had total free will. My heart jumped for the joy at reading my Dad’s complete unconditional surrender, but then I kept reading…
He went on to say that while he recognized my free will, he wanted to enclose a list of things to avoid in college, and the consequences that are inevitable when each of the choices he advised against are taken up as a lifestyle. One by one, he outlined the hows and whys of disaster that befall a life lived solely for one’s self.
In the end, he concluded, “While all things can be pursued, it is only the things larger than us that are worth our pursuit. And those are the things which make us truly happy.”
My father didn’t write that letter to ruin my college experience. He wrote it protect me from me. Never did he threaten me with anything. Never did he say I owed it to him and my mother to behave myself and bring no shame. Instead, he offered a portrait of unconditional love, and a guidebook for a world where it is so easy to get lost.
My father had written me a love letter like few others.
As I grew up in my faith and explored the Bible, God’s words to Moses in Exodus 20 always stood out to me. Here were the people of Israel, who’d been slaves for so many generations, finally set free. Until then, everything they did had to go through the Pharaoh, but now they could do anything they wanted. It was as if the nation of Israel had been dropped off at college, and there was God the Father giving Moses a love letter to his beloved children.
God wasn’t trying to stop them from having fun. He wasn’t trying to cramp their style or restrict their freedom. Instead, He was offering them ten rules to protect them from a threat far more destructive than anything Egypt could ever imagine: themselves.
God is God. He can’t be tainted by our failings. I’m sure it causes Him great pain, but He can’t be diminished by the definition of His very existence. So the Ten Commandments were not for His benefit – he didn’t need them – it was, and remains, for ours.
I have not lived a perfect life, but I shudder to think what may have become of me had I not read my Dad’s letter on that first day of college. In that same notion, we live in a far from perfect world, but can you imagine where we would be without the framework of the Ten Commandments?
I made I AM in an effort to create an emotional portrait of our loving God who desperately longs for a relationship with us. Nothing breaks my heart more than hear people tell me they’ve quit God because, “I just can’t deal with all the judgement and rules.” I could never find the words to express how I don’t see Him that way, so I decided to try and show it on screen.
This is not a movie designed to tell you what to do or how to do it. It’s made with one simple purpose: to create a spark in people to think about God, and hopefully talk to some people about Him, and maybe – just maybe -- yet seek Him out. One thing is for sure, our knock on God's door will be answered.
The Ten Commandments are God’s love letter to us. Hopefully, this movie can be a post-it note reminding us to clean out our desks and read that old letter again…