New York is the skyscraper city that thousands of Irish people dream of living in, but what all the rags to riches stories rarely tell you is that it’s also a city quite a few of them dream of escaping from too.
In the new film Emerald City writer Colin Broderick hopes to tell the story of Ireland’s rapidly dwindling construction industry, once a legendary enterprise but in these post-Celtic Tiger days just hanging on by a thread.
This week Broderick, the director and writer of the acclaimed memoirs Orangutan and That’s That, announced a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to bankroll the production of Emerald City.
With $5,000 raised of the $25,000 target in just a few days, it looks like the project will find all the backing it needs. Broderick says he needs the Irish community to understand why he’s making it.
The wave of construction workers to come here in the 1980s were really the last of the Mohicans, Broderick tells the Irish Voice. Nowadays the Irish are more likely to have a banking degree or plans to work in the U.S. tech industry, and skilled labor is not an aspiration for Ireland’s graduating classes.
“I worked construction from the time I arrived in the 1980s and I wrote every chance I could get. But I also struggled with alcoholism and addiction until 2007, when I finally put down the bottle. Next month I will be eight years clean and sober,” he says.
All those years of addiction, depression, isolation and denial taught Broderick a thing or two about damaged Irish psychologies and how to exorcize some of their more destructive tendencies. The pressure on the men in his film to find their way toward their authentic selves and some peace with their lives is the focus of the film and a struggle he knows all about.
“Emerald City is about the men I worked with. It’s a movie that intends to finally honor the Irish working man in the U.S. There’s been decades of history but it’s all gone unrecorded. I want to open a window into a sub-culture that everyone seems to know about but few really understand.”
It’s a cliché that the Irish built New York because it’s largely true. Generations of immigrants, often undocumented, scaled the topless towers of New York and put Manhattan on the map.
But what did they get for all that effort? Who recorded how they lived and died? The answer is no one.
“Emerald City opens with the men in their late thirties or early forties, many having left Ireland in an era of closeted oppression and sectarian violence. They have spent their adult lives self-medicating against a past that continues to haunt them.”
In their memory and in the memory of all the Irish who have helped build this town he’s making this movie now, Broderick says.
“The truth is it has always amazed me that someone has not made this movie before now. Perhaps it’s because most of the men who really lived it, the men who really understand it, are either still living it, or they're dead. I've lost many close friends over the years to that unforgiving lifestyle.”
Booze, broads, drugs, gambling, addiction and death defying antics were an everyday part of his and his construction buddies’ lives. Given that, it’s amazing he’s still alive Broderick says.
“The men are still hard working, hard partying, likable rogues who are faced with the wreckage of a life spent dodging adult responsibility. But we begin to see the cost of the lifestyle. They are no longer fresh faced boys. Consequences must be faced.”
The central character Colly is a clear stand in for himself, a writer and a poet struggling with addiction, alcoholism and depression. He recognizes that a huge cultural shift has taken place back in Ireland and a new era of openness and acceptance is emerging.
That places himself and his crew on a different kind of precipice to the ones they’re used to and he is trying desperately to find a way out of that lifestyle before it's too late.
“The movie marks the end of an era in Irish construction work in New York. For the past 200 years there has been a steady corridor of skilled manual labor emigrating to the United States from Ireland. All that has changed in the past two decades.”
To get the film in the can, the production now needs the financial support of the Irish community, and Broderick says every little bit helps.
“They can donate and look at all the amazing gifts we have on Kickstarter, like signed posters and boxing gloves signed by John Duddy. And,” says Broderick, sweetening the pot, “they can even be an extra in the movie or have a minor speaking roll for the right donation.”
To visit the Kickstarter campaign visit KickStarter.com.