The latest offering from the ‘I Am’ series which has featured Bruce Lee, Evil Knievel, Steve McQueen, Chris Farley, Dale Earnhardt and JFK Jr., the feature length documentary features never-before-seen footage shot by Heath through the lens of his own camera, providing a unique and intimate portrait of the late Aussie star.
"We had a strong interest in making a film about him and we started learning about the depth of him being an artist beyond acting," co-director Derik Murray tells Refinery29. "This great artist that was interested in photography and filmmaking, we couldn't resist, we dove right in."
Heath’s love affair with directing features heavily in the documentary. An integral member of the L.A. art collective/production company, The Masses, Heath directed music videos for N’fa Jones and Modest Mouse, and at the time of his death was planning to direct his first feature film based on the 1983 Walter Tevis novel, ‘The Queen's Gambit’.
“He was always a director,” childhood friend and assistant director, Trevor DiCarlo says in the trailer. “Acting was just a way to get there.”
Complementing Heath’s personal recordings are candid interviews with friends, family and colleagues including ‘Brokeback Mountain’ director, Ang Lee, former girlfriend Naomi Watts, agent Steve Alexander, musician Ben Harper and his sister, Kate. Heath’s discomfort with stardom, and his desire to not be typecast as a teen heartthrob following romantic roles in ‘10 Things I Hate About You’ and ‘A Knight’s Tale’ is a common thread.
“Before ‘Brokeback Mountain’ came out, it would have been unthinkable to have a romantic tragedy involving two gay cowboys,” actor, Ben Mendelsohn, says in the trailer. “This is one of the biggest heartthrobs on Earth taking on that character. That’s an artist.”
Noticeably absent from the interviews is Michelle Williams – Ledger’s former fiancée and the mother of his daughter, Matilda. Derik told The Guardian that Williams’ support was integral to the film, “but she really didn’t feel she wanted to be in front of the camera”.
Excerpts of Heath’s greatest performances feature in the documentary, including snippets of his role as The Joker from ‘The Dark Knight’ for which he was posthumously awarded an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in 2009. Following his death in his New York apartment on 22 January 2008, there was much speculation that playing The Joker had taken a toll on his mental health. This theory was debunked however by every single person the filmmakers spoke to.
“He had the best time making it … The Joker was a role. He was enthralled by it. He was proud of it,” Derik told The Guardian.
Following its world premiere at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival on 23 April, ‘I Am Heath Ledger’ will screen in L.A. for the Australians in Film Society before its Australian Premiere on 9 May at Luna Cinemas in Perth, which will be attended by Heath’s family.
In an interview with Fox News, Derik says ‘I Am Heath Ledger’ is a tribute to Heath’s enthusiasm for living life to the fullest.
“He was immersed in taking risks, whether it was creating images, videos or acting, it all provided him with a very inspired life. He was excited about every breath he took and loved life. I hope people will come away with that.”