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Colin Broderick • Director of A Bend in the River

“The main challenge was creating a visually compelling narrative to represent Matt Donnelly’s inner life”


- We interviewed Ireland’s Colin Broderick, who talked to us about the making of his sophomore feature, A Bend in the River

Colin Broderick • Director of A Bend in the River
(© Wojtek Urbanek)

We had the chance to converse with Irish writer-director Colin Broderick, who presented his drama A Bend in the River [+see also:
film review
interview: Colin Broderick
film profile
at this year’s Belfast Film Festival (18 November-6 December).

Cineuropa: When did you start working on A Bend in the River?
Colin Broderick:
I had my first staged reading of this script in the Bronx about ten years ago. Michael Kelly [Doug Stamper from House of Cards] originally read for the part of Matt Donnelly. But I didn’t understand fully what the movie was about at that point, so I shelved it. Then, after I made my first feature, Emerald City, it came back to me, and I felt there was something in there that I wanted to explore about immigration, exile and Northern Ireland. Since the whole Brexit thing started, the idea of a hard border again has resurrected all of those old fears and questions we thought we’d put to bed with the Good Friday Agreement. The time felt right to try to say something.

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In the film, John Duddy plays a writer who returns to County Tyrone from New York after 26 years. How did you work on developing his inner conflicts?
I’ve been working with John Duddy since the moment we met, about eight years ago. He has this incredible screen presence and this very deep inner life that I knew he would trust me with. We both grew up in Northern Ireland, as did our cinematographer, Shane Kelly, and they are both immigrants, as I am, so they were just as immersed in the material as I was. The conflict for John was very real. There’s a scene in the movie where Matt remembers The Troubles, and you have that flashback to that incredible, iconic footage of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry from 1972... The priest waving the white hankie as they carry the bloodied boy. That boy was Jackie Duddy, John’s uncle, only 17 when he was murdered. John was actually named after him: John Jackie Duddy. This material was incredibly delicate for all of us. It needed to be absolutely right. We needed to honour the truth of the place, from an immigrant’s perspective.

What was the biggest challenge?
The main challenge was creating a visually compelling narrative to represent Matt Donnelly’s inner life. How do you do that without boring the audience? How do you bring the audience into the writer’s heart and into his mind, so they go on this emotional journey with him? It was a difficult process, first during the writing, then during the actual shooting, but the real challenge began in the editing room. I spent every day for six months with editor Jon Greenhalgh trying to come up with a consistent aesthetic that might take the viewer on a journey, without ever breaking the spell of Matt’s inner world.

How has the making of this film changed your perception of Ireland?
I’m not so sure the movie has changed my perspective on Ireland, but I’m hoping it will help to address that disconnect that the Irish have with the diaspora. There’s still this sense of the Irish at home tending to judge people like myself, who’ve moved away, as outsiders. Once you leave, they sort of push you out. You live the rest of your life on the emotional periphery of Ireland. They never quite allow you back into the fold.

What was your collaboration with Colm Mac Con Iomaire and Shane Kelly like?
I actually had another cinematographer lined up, and then, at the last minute, I got an email from Shane saying he’d like to shoot the movie. I was floored. No other cinematographer could have gone into this with the heart that he did. My wife, Rachel, had introduced me to Colm’s music. I remember she played me a live recording of “Emer’s Dream”, and it broke my heart. I could see it visually playing out over the Irish countryside, and that one song set the tone for the whole movie. We’d be shooting a scene, and I’d have my producer, Julie Ryan, tell everyone to stop what they were doing, and we would all just stand there and listen to “Emer’s Dream” for five minutes. The emotional essence of that track runs through the movie. I can’t tell you how honoured I was that Colm agreed to compose the soundtrack.

What about your new projects?
I just published a novel, Church End, available on Amazon. The response has blown my mind a little. I have also been hired by Magnifico Productions to write a six-part mini-series called The Pizza Connection. It’s set in 1970s New York, with the Italian Mob, Nicky Barnes, the Westies, boxers, heroin, romance and undercover cops. It’s a relief, and it’s exciting to be writing something that’s not about myself... Well, not entirely about myself!

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