Co Tyrone film-maker Colin Broderick on homecoming tale A Bend In The River
David Roy chats to New Jersey-based Co Tyrone film-maker Colin Broderick about his autobiographically inspired drama A Bend In The River, which stars boxer-turned-actor John Duddy as an Irish emigrant returning home from the US to face his demons after 25 years...
"THIS isn't so much a job as it is an illness," laughs writer/director Colin Broderick of his compulsion to be creative as an author, playwright and film-maker, the Co Tyrone-shot movie A Bend in The River being his most recent work.
"It's like, 'I gotta deal with these f***ing voices in my head', I've got to keep the noise down. And, if I don't tend to that, if I don't give it voice, then I wind up feeling like a crazy person. That's basically my life."
A Bend in The River is a companion piece of sorts to the US-based Broderick's excellent debut feature Emerald City from 2016, a film inspired by the Co Tyrone native's experience of joining the Irish American community in the Bronx's Woodlawn neighbourhood during the 1990s.
The Altamuskin-bred father of three found work in construction while developing a serious drinking problem, before eventually sobering up in his mid-20s long enough to study English at Lehman College in the Bronx under the soon-to-be poet laureate Billy Collins, who became his mentor and friend.
Colly, the character the Broderick plays in the movie, is a construction worker and frustrated writer who's also struggling to stay sober. He has penned a script he's too scared to do anything with – until fate intervenes.
"That was an act of madness," admits the writer/director of making his feature debut.
"I quit drinking in 2007 at almost 40 years of age and didn't have a pot to p*** in: I didn't have a relationship or kids, I didn't have an apartment or a job, I'd never written a book or made a movie – I couldn't have told you how to make a movie.
"But I'm so glad that I didn't know anything about movie making, because if I'd known what it was going to take I would've been too scared. I would have said 'I can't do this'. But I did do it, out of an act of madness feeling like I can do this – then getting it done was actually the education: 'Oh, now I can make a movie'."
A time capsule of a now bygone era for a subset of 'the working Irish' in New York City, the highly entertaining film includes memorable turns by Broderick's wife, Rachel, as Colly's love interest Ophelia, his brother Brendan, former boxer John Duddy and actor John McConnell (all of whom also feature in A Bend in The River) as members of Colly's construction crew, and Co Tipperary-born John Keating as the men's wheeler-dealing foreman.
Emerald City also features an early screen appearance by Eden Brolin, daughter of Broderick's friend Josh Brolin. The pair bonded over a shared love of poetry in the days before the Hollywood star made his name with No Country For Old Men, and Brolin Productions have subsequently helped fund both of the Co Tyrone man's films.
The 2016 picture showcased John Duddy's powerful screen presence in a supporting role, which Broderick has now harnessed for the lead in A Bend in The River.
"We took Emerald City all over the country and when you would see him up on the big screen you realised 'My God, this guy is as handsome as any Irish leading man'," explains the director of Derry-born ex professional boxer Duddy, a friend whom Broderick had previously worked with on stage productions in New York.
"The camera just loves him. Another funny thing I realised about him was that it was as easy for men to like him and admire his handsomeness as women, which is a rare thing. It's because he's not arrogant.
"I was actually thinking about playing the lead in A Bend in The River right up until a couple of months before we shot, until I realised 'what the f*** am I doing?'. I am really a writer, not an actor.
"I already had John down for another role but I called him up and said 'You gotta play the lead' – and he said 'Thank-you, I've been waiting for this phone call'.
"He was the perfect avatar for this story because I needed somebody the audience could look at and feel like they were going to go inside his thought process. And John was able to convey that all the way through the film."
Broderick adds: "I'm really glad I did the acting thing in Emerald City because one of the big things about when you stop drinking, in the end, is social anxiety. So, to stand in front of a camera and go out on a set was absolutely terrifying. But it also helped heal me."
Shot by Sixmilecross man Shane F Kelly, Richard Linklater's regular director of photography, and featuring an evocative IFTA-nominated score by Colm Mac Con Iomaire, the contemplative A Bend in The River centres on Matt (Duddy), a successful US-based author crippled by writer's block who returns home to the north after 25 years away in order to shake loose some inspiration – and possibly confront some demons.
Holed up in a remote farmhouse organised by his brother (John McConnell), the ghosts of Matt's past soon begin circling in the form of his childhood sweetheart Katie (Kathy Kiera Clarke, who picked up the film's second IFTA-nomination), his former best friend and veteran republican Declan (another memorable turn for Brendan Broderick) and a hated teacher from his school days.
While A Bend in The River is less directly autobiographical than Emerald City in terms of its storyline, it's still an intensely personal picture for Broderick, informed by the guilt experienced by a generation of emigrants that left loved ones behind during the Troubles – as well as Ireland's often awkward relationship with Irish America.
"I left right after Loughgall," explains Broderick.
"I knew some of those guys – I was at three wakes in one afternoon. I was also a driver for Brian Mullin, who wound up getting assassinated [by the SAS in August 1988] three months after I arrived in America.
"Basically, my mother said, 'If you keep going down this path, you're putting a gun in your younger brother's hands'. So I bailed out and went to America.
"Over the last 15 years, I have just sort of been working like a lunatic to catch up with all the noise in my head and sort of sift through all my old baggage – digging into my past to try and figure out who the f*** I am.
"And, with this movie, I finally feel like I've said what it was I needed to say."
However, the film-maker admits he was late to realise his true calling in life.
Broderick recalls: "It was Brendan who put his arm around me in a dive bar in Woodlawn one night and said, 'you know, you have to get out of here and go write. You're the guy who's going to have to go and do it for all of us'.
"I'll never forget it. I was drunk out of my mind, but I sobered up like that. In that moment, I realised that everybody around me saw me differently. They had this expectation that I was going to go and represent them, the working Irish.
"They could see that I had that in me, more than I could see it myself. It took me a while to realise that I'd been gifted something – and that it was my job to do something with that gift."
Seems like he's off to a pretty good start so far.
:: A Bend in The River is available to rent or buy via Amazon Prime Video, Google Play and YouTube now. Watch Emerald City for free on YouTube and visit Colin online at colinbroderick.com