Colin broderick

Compelling story of men at work

Colin Broderick’s “Emerald City” gets its Chicago premiere tomorrow night.

By Mike Houlihan

Colin Broderick’s film “Emerald City” sneaks up on you.

You’re watching a gang of a half dozen or so New York City construction workers starting their day, shaping up for the job, each of them is unique, all of them Irish emigrants. You’ve seen it all before of course: the laughter, the fights, the boozing. But suddenly, simple moments of pure honesty break through the bravado. Maybe a look, a smile, or a character telling somebody, “I was lonely.”

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Then just like that, you’re hooked on this compelling story of Irish men at work, struggling to find their way in America. It gets its Midwest premiere in Chicago tomorrow night as part of the 3rd Annual Irish-American Movie Hooley at the Siskel Film Center. The 3-day festival kicks off this evening.

Writer, director, and star Colin Broderick told me, “People get somewhat inadvertently involved in these guys lives. It’s not like they’re the nicest guys. They’re troubled, there’s alcoholism, depression, there’s elements of racism, all the kind of stuff that sort of exists in an Irish workplace, unspoken, but yet its somehow all forgiven, when you view them as a whole, as a unit, so much gets forgiven, because what you eventually wind up seeing, and I think people recognize it, is their humanity.”

Broderick arrived in New York from County Tyrone in 1988, after too many close calls in Northern Ireland where several of his friends were killed in the Loughgall ambush the previous year. His mother’s family had had a history of IRA involvement.

“My uncle Paddy Joe McClean is one of the ‘hooded men.’ He was captured and tortured by the British. He’s one of six of them still alive,” he said. (The “hooded men” were 15 early internees in 1971, most of who became part of a landmark European Court torture case. McClean, a schoolteacher and civil rights activist, was not a member of the IRA or any republican organization.)

Colin’s mother saved his life when she urged him to emigrate. “She pretty much laid the gun in my lap, and said ‘Here’s what will happen,’” he remembered.

His cousin hooked him up with a construction job when he got to New York. “When I arrived there was 15 of us cousins living in a two-bedroom apartment in Yonkers.”

He lived several lifetimes in those next 10 years plus in New York; working construction, reading, writing, doing drugs and drinking; mostly drinking. Thank God he stopped doing that. He wrote a critically acclaimed memoir “Orangutan”, that documents it all and left this reader thinking that maybe Colin Broderick has had a guardian angel looking out for him.

Another memoir, “That’s That,” was published in 2013, about the Troubles and growing up in Tyrone.

And lately his life has been all about this terrific new film, “Emerald City,” which Broderick wrote, directed and starred in, along with his brother Brendan, former Irish boxer John Duddy, and a crew of unforgettable actors, many of whom will be joining us in Chicago for the premiere at the Third Annual Irish American Movie Hooley.

“Filmmaking and writing is a much tougher racket,” Broderick said. “I certainly made more working construction as a carpenter in one year than I’ve made in years as a writer. The only way to survive really is to keep moving.”

Two days before shooting began on “Emerald City,” one of his investors pulled out, along with the 60 grand he had promised to kick in. Broderick says, “I had an 18-day shoot lined up with a full production company and I don’t have any money.”

But Colin had done a short film called “Smile” and actor Brendan Coyle, Mr. Bates from “Downton Abbey” had seen it on YouTube and said “if you’re ever making a movie and you need help, reach out to me.”

It was Mr. Bates to the rescue and Coyle became executive producer of “Emerald City.” There’s that guardian angel of yours again Colin Broderick, sneaking up on you.

Please join us at the Gene Siskel Film Center for the Chicago premiere of “Emerald City,” and meet the gang!