Things have changed in Irish America in the two decades since Burns wrote The Brothers McMullen. Most dramatically, the relationship with the church has changed he says.
“I look at how my friends and I were raised and how we related to Catholicism versus my parents and the difference in the way our kids are changing too,” he says.
“But I am also surprised how strong Irish American ties to their own ethnicity remain when you’re talking about third fourth and fifth generation. They still hold on to them very strongly.”
For Burns it’s all a win in that he gets to profile the community he loves in a career he clearly adores.
“I feel very fortunate and lucky. My films don’t get a big splash when they’re released. They don’t make a ton of money. I’ve never made the big movie on a Friday night,” he says.
“Yet for whatever reason I have been very lucky that I get to make them.”
His modesty is remarkable in an industry not known for it. But Burns insists the work is the thing for him.
“My films are not cool, they’re not hip, and I’ve never aspired to be. What I’m interested in is being as honest as I can possibly be. These characters are real, they feel like characters you know, and I’ve been lucky to enjoy a pretty nice life from them.”
Every two years Burns finds the money, he gets his films made. Even finding the right locations can be a family affair.
“I asked my mother whose house could we use as the Fitzgeralds for the film. She called up some friends and eventually they allowed us to shoot in their homes,” Burns reveals.
“So I’m sitting in a dining room that I can remember from the third grade. And there’s my real family meeting my screen family.”
Out on Long Island, where Burns is from, the Irish are still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, and he knows all about it.
“Two of my cousins live out in Long Beach. Their homes were severely damaged and one of them looks like it’s going to be all right and the other one is just waiting to see,” he says.
“They’re all now living at my parents’ house in Rockville Center. Gerritson Beach, Breezy Point and the Rockaways, all these Irish enclaves have all been so hard hit.”
It’s the landscape of his childhood. It’s still the map Burns is connected to in his head and his films.