PHOTOPHILE- Almighty manna: It's spreading all over town


Kristy Houde and Reuven Birkrant of the Event Company guard the green carpet so the VIPS can stroll into the premiere. SLIDESHOW

Not content with the millions he spent on hotels, bicycles, food, and daily pay for extras, the director of Evan Almighty, which premieres nationally June 22 as the most expensive comedy ever made, has deposited more cash in Charlottesville.

This was apparent even before we saw the chocolate fountain at his Omni hotel post-premiere party for 1,000 VIPS who had just attended a screening of the film at the Paramount Theater on June 14, an event that brought out a varied cross-section of Charlottesville citizenry including former mayor Maurice Cox, City Councilor Dave Norris, a Code Pinker, and a man who passes his time giving Tarot card readings on the Downtown Mall.

Director Tom Shadyac's own social conscience provided a theme for the movie– and its marketing. On the green carpet, the Conservation Fund's Jenna Thompson described how her organization "helped zero out the carbon imprint" of the film by planting trees and recycling materials.

"Two words: living wage," said Shadyac, keeping the social-issue commentary rolling after telling the assembled media corralled on the green carpet, "We didn't want to pillage while we were here."

Indeed, Shadyac has not only purchased the former First Christian Church building on Market Street for $2.3 million, he's hired local architects Greg Bleam and Fred Wolf to convert it into a multi-purpose community/homeless help center.

"He put his money where his mouth is," said local activist Joy Johnson, whom Shadyac introduced to the Paramount crowd and credited for opening his eyes to the social needs in Charlottesville.

The former frat boy and member of UVA's class of 1981 went on to proudly note the family-friendly rating of his new picture. "It's PG," he said. "No monkeys coming out of butts."

As anyone who has seen the movie and what happens to the Sugar Hollow dam now knows, Evan is "a Bible parable," said Shadyac. "We wanted to find meaning in it."

And of course the movie has God– Morgan Freeman, who was not in attendance at the local premiere.

As for his own religious leanings, the director calls himself a "tweener." Raised a Catholic, Shadyac cites the influence of Sufi mystics and philosophers: "I like to find the spaces between faiths." 

And he's philosophic about the cost of the movie. It's those darn animals that drove the cost up– "north of $170 million," according to Shadyac. "It wouldn't have cost as much if we hadn't come here," he joked. "They told me how much it's going to cost, and I went, ‘Wow.'"

Alms expert and City Councilor Dave Norris has plenty to smile about, since his Compass homeless shelter will be housed in the church– and because he gets to chum around with occupational therapist Wendy Keller.

Colleen Gibbons, left, the film's location manager, went to UVA in the late 1970s, and now gets to hang out with state film office director Rita McClenny and Albemarle supervisor candidate Denny King.

"He has a card here," says Crozet library branch manager Wendy Saz before posing with the movie director– who's helping kick off a $1.6 million fundraising campaign– and with Kathleen Jump, left.

Clockwise from upper left: Soapstone magnate/artist Kierck Ashmore-Sorensen, Barbara Myer, Gaia Sorensen (who can do quite an Elvis impersonation), Eleanor Myer-Sessoms, and Zoe Sorensen.

Andy Andrews (right) is an architect who scored a coveted walk-on role as a U.S. Senator. He's seen here with multi-talented Howard Pape.

While Steve Carell plays a Congressman in the movie, a real former Congressman attended the gig: L.F. Payne, seen here with wife Susan.

Melanie Smart and Stu Rifkin arranged the real estate deal between the church and the charity-minded film director.#