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‘I Am Paul Walker’ to Document the Life of the Late Action Star

The makers of ‘I Am Heath Ledger’ will immortalize the ‘Fast and the Furious’ actor in documentary form.
Paul Walker Furious
By  · Published on February 28th, 2018

The makers of ‘I Am Heath Ledger’ will immortalize the ‘Fast and the Furious’ actor in documentary form.

Derik Murray of Network Entertainment has been hard at work bringing documentaries based on famous people to screens everywhere. Films such as Facing Ali and I Am Bruce Lee evolved into series of films that have consistently been made for the better part of a decade. Most recently, Murray produced I Am Heath Ledger and I Am Sam Kinison, both released last year. Yesterday, Deadline reported that the next installment in the “I Am…” documentary franchise will be based on the life of action star Paul Walker.

Adrian Buitenhuis, co-director of I Am Heath Ledger and I Am Sam Kinison, will reunite with Murray to helm I Am Paul Walker for Paramount Network. Like the previous documentaries, I Am Paul Walker will feature interviews with the people in Walker’s life, including his castmates and friends. According to producers, the documentary will also focus on Walker’s life outside of acting, touching on his efforts as a philanthropist. The film is clearly an attempt to present the man instead of the myth to the world.

What draws the “I Am…” series together is the sense of closeness that the producers and directors try to foster in these films about legendary icons. The films are promoted as a way for audiences to get to know their idols; with such intimate, first-person titles, how could they not be? While this is a rather barefaced ploy to attract hardcore fans, the fascination and mystery surrounding these public figures remain and could possibly draw in some more lukewarm spectators. Many of these movies also focus on subjects who’d passed away rather young, adding the twinge of bittersweetness to their content.

But that is pretty much the only real commonality between the “I Am…” films, as they’re obviously based on vastly different people. In the case of I Am Sam Kinison, the documentary is an in-depth look at Kinison’s life as a comedian, and a problematic, volatile one at that. Despite input from his friends and family, the film does gloss over Kinison’s more unsavory work and only barely attempts to explain the kind of darkness that infused his humor. Newsday opined that I Am Sam Kinison “isn’t about condemnation but celebration” and was definitely made of fans who already laughed as well as raged along with Kinison and his brand.

I Am Heath Ledger is similarly made for those who already love and miss Ledger. There’s much more heart in this documentary, though, as the film sports a more personal touch in its portrayal of the actor: his intense and insatiable love for filmmaking. Clips of Ledger filming and starring in his own home movies display a much more intimate look at his creativity in a more private setting, far away from being a teen heartthrob and eventually starring in big blockbusters. Ledger was basically vlogging before it was a thing, documenting events in his life whether they were big or small. Audiences are given a sense that art was a contradictory thing for him, and his struggles with both wanting to work as an actor and rejecting fame come across as engaging and impactful. As a result, I Am Heath Ledger ends up being a much more sensitive look at Ledger’s life that is at least partly more worthy of an “I Am…” moniker.

Of course, not everyone has a stash of home movies for directors and producers to sift through, and without such, the Walker documentary could turn out less personal and focused than it should. Murray and Buitenhuis truly hit a goldmine with Ledger’s home movies. These extra tidbits highlight Ledger’s relatable persona, making an otherwise rather ordinary documentary stand out. In looking for similar touchstones for I Am Paul Walker, the focus on Walker’s activism — his passions for ocean and marine life, as well as the philanthropic work he did in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake — could create the kind of intimacy that tugs at heartstrings and also depicts Walker the person, not just as a celebrity.

Celebrities enchant audiences with their public personas, and as the Kinison documentary shows, sometimes there’s no getting to the root of one’s motivations beyond indulging in the bare minimum of explanations for their behavior. In contrast, I Am Heath Ledger manages to draw out Ledger’s personality a little more between regular interviews and third-person accounts of his life, making it a better tribute to the actor. It is highly likely that I Am Paul Walker will draw from both the Kinison and Ledger docs in content and style, but here’s to hoping for more of the latter.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)