Freaks, Geeks and Refugees

Dec 15, 2004 at 12:00 am

With the release of the childhood drama I Am David, fans of writer-director Paul Feig might be scratching their heads, wondering what a self-proclaimed geek from Mount Clemens has in common with a boy who escapes a Bulgarian labor camp.

“Well, they’re both stories of persecution,” Feig says in a phone interview. “You could look at it that way.”

The Michigan native earned a truckload of accolades — but not Nielsen success — as the creator of NBC’s brilliant-but-canceled high school comedy Freaks and Geeks, an unsentimental look at growing up as a dork in the Detroit suburbs of the early ’80s. Based in large part on his experiences as a gawky teenager, the show was followed in 2002 by the memoir Kick Me, which collected even more true-life tales of adolescent embarrassment, this time involving Feig’s pubescent fascination with, among other things, girls, germs, gym-class erections, magic tricks and cross-dressing.

Now, he’s decided to make the leap to the big screen for good with his adaptation of Anne Holm’s classic children’s novel (known more commonly in this country as North to Freedom) about a boy who experiences the Free World for the first time after fleeing a communist work camp. Eager to avoid being pigeonholed as a “high-school movie” director, Feig jumped at the chance to adapt the novel. Still, the similarities are there for those who choose to search for them.

“One of my friends said, ‘You just turned a prison camp into the worst high school in the world,’” he recalls. “The perspective on it is of an outsider not fitting into a place, and this just happens to be the most horrible place known to man.”

Working on the script in the months following his mother’s death as well as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Feig says the story’s themes of all-healing maternal love and the horror of an unstable world resonated with him deeply. But the script is not without the author’s now-trademark moments of levity.

“Trust us, we’re not going to dump some big heavy thing on you,” he says.

Avoiding voice-over and relying heavily on shots that illustrate David’s point of view, Feig creates a feeling of first-person wonder and amazement, as the boy’s outlook on life grows rosier. Still, even in these scenes Feig’s skillful, craftsman-like aesthetic can be traced back to his days as a sci-fi-obsessed metro Detroit fanboy, not far off from the ones portrayed in Freaks.

“You know, when I saw Star Wars I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. In all my favorite movies, I just wanted to be whatever person was in that situation,” he says. “I’m always trying to re-create, in everything I do, that feeling of getting sucked into something, where you forget it’s a movie. That to me is the greatest.”


Showing at the Birmingham 8 (211 S. Woodward, Birmingham). 248-644-3456.

To read Metro Times’ review of I Am David, visit the film section of

Michael Hastings is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]