Derry actor John Duddy and Derry Girls star in Colin Broderick’s new movie ‘A Bend In The River’: Now on Amazon Prime and Googleplay

A Bend in the River was written and directed by Colin Broderick. Broderick left home in County Tyrone for America in 1988.

Friday, 26th November 2021, 1:03 pm
John Duddy and Kathy Kiera Clarke in A Bend in the River.

There, after half a lifetime battling alcoholism and addiction while working as a carpenter, he found himself in Times Square 14 years ago, begging for dollar bills to pay for Vodka. Then he got sober, and everything changed.

Colin has written and published four books, he became a playwright, actor, screenwriter and film director. It is a remarkable story by any standard.

In ‘A Bend in The River’ he explores what it’s like to finally come home.

Sign up to our daily Derry Journal Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The protagonist, an author named Matt Donnelly, is played by Derry man and former boxing champion John Duddy. John retired from the sport after boxing professionally for seven and a half years. He has fought at Madison Square Garden, nine times.

Then he walked away from fighting at the height of his career to pursue a career as an actor.

“I quit fighting because I was just done with it. I was done with the business, the fighting, and the loneliness,” said John.

“Once I finished, a buddy of ours called Seamus McDonagh reached out to me. He fought Evander Holyfield back in the early 90s for the heavyweight title. He called just to make sure I was alright. Because when I announced my retirement, everyone was like: ‘What’s wrong? Is he okay?’

Kathy Kiera Clarke.

“Seamus and I used to talk about acting before and he said: ‘Look, I’m in a play, about an Irish American. He’s a professional fighter. He’s considering retirement and he’s an alcoholic.’ I said two out of three ain’t bad. I’ll have a crack at that. The play was predominantly performed by ex-professional fighters. It was the Irish filmmaker Jimmy Smallhorne who said: ‘Hey, John, have you ever heard of Colin Broderick?’ And I said: ‘Aye I think so, is he not the writer’? And Jimmy said ‘That’s him, you need to come over and say hello to Colin, he is one of your boys, from the North’.

“Once we started talking, we kind of just hit it off. And that was one thing that I liked about Colin. You meet people and there’s a lot of great talkers, but what makes the difference is the action. You have to get in the ring and do it, there’s no point talking about it.”

Colin released his first feature, Emerald City in 2016. The film is about a hard partying crew of Irish construction workers in the Bronx who reach the end of the line. This was the first film John acted in, and it also stars Colin.

“John was the most famous Irish boxer in America, pre-Conor McGregor,” said Colin.

Colin Broderick & John Duddy. Photo by Anthony Mulcahywja.

“The buzz that was around John at that time was enormous, and I’m not a sports guy. But I eventually went to one of his fights just to see what all the buzz was about.

“Shortly after that, we bumped into each other. John had just retired from boxing, and we just happened to randomly bump into each other at some event at the Irish consulate. I was like, ‘Hey, how are you doing? I was at your fight.’ And he was like, ‘Oh, you’re the writer’. We just started talking and basically we’ve been talking ever since.”

“John is one of those people that you know, I met and we’ve just become fast friends. He performed in two plays that I wrote: Spudmunchers, and then Father Who, which was off Broadway. Then I decided I was going to get into filmmaking. I didn’t actually know how to make a film. No idea. But we did it anyway. And we had an amazing experience with Emerald City, and we’re still getting great feedback from that. So that sort of propelled us into taking it to the next level.”

“For me. I was like, this is it. I want to try and do this for the rest of my life. This is brilliant,” said John.

“You know, and the stories that Colin tells, an Irishman, an immigrant like myself, people moving away from their home and living in America. Me and Colin have more in common than I ever thought we would have, coming from a sports background and him coming from his crazy background.

“But that’s what I loved about it. Just doing it, not just talking about it. Colin would be like ‘here John read this, let’s do it, let’s go for it’. It’s been 10 years now, and there’s two feature films and two plays.”

A Bend in the River was shot by veteran Hollywood cinematographer, Shane Kelly: Scanner Darkly, Where’d You Go Bernadette, and the Oscar winning Boyhood.

Shane, also from County Tyrone originally, shot the movie using as much natural light as possible, giving it a majestic, haunting appearance. The vast terrain of Co. Tyrone compliments John’s performance throughout this deep, emotional self-discovery, as he confronts the ghosts of his past.

“John and I have been exploring these topics of emigration, and, you know, exile from the north of Ireland for a long time now,” said Colin.

“Like, what it means to be from the North specifically, and to be an immigrant. We’ve been exploring these issues together for 10 years since the day we met. A Bend in the River is really a culmination of all that work. We wanted to take it to the next level, to put a feature movie together, where we could go back home to NI together and just shoot it and explore all of these themes, really try to articulate that immigrant struggle.”

John’s 17 year old uncle John Francis Duddy, who was a boxer, was thought to be the first shot and killed on Bloody Sunday. He is the boy being carried in the iconic footage of the priest with the white handkerchief leading the men who carry Jackie’s body out of the fray. John was named after his uncle.

“The movie itself explores not just the whole immigration theme, but also how we remember it,” said Colin.

“The vulnerability of memory. The things that we carry, and our version of the narrative that we’ve built up that we sort of are relying on. And that’s sort of a universal theme.

“As a director and a writer, you know, I sat down with John, and we had a very serious conversation about it, you know, how far do we go? How vulnerable do we allow ourselves to be in sort of revealing our own stories? You see that scene in the movie, where you have the flashback to the Troubles. That boy that’s being carried is John’s uncle. That’s serious stuff. And we didn’t take it lightly.”

The original score by the Irish composer Colm Mac Con Iomaire elevates Shane Kelly’s incredible cinematography, and visuals of the County Tyrone countryside. Colm MacCon Iomaire was nominated for an IFTA for the original score. One of two nominations the movie received this year at the prestigious award ceremony. (The other was for Kathy Keira Clarke of Derry Girls in Best Supporting role.) Mac Con Iomiare’s haunting strings set the tone for Matt Donnelly’s story. John believes we need to talk more about growing up during The Troubles.

“I always found it fascinating, you know, nothing was talked about when we were growing up,” John said.

“People are like: ‘Naw it’s normal, we go on, you live your life and you do your thing’. You didn’t act like there was a war growing up. What Colin grew up through, and my parents went through was certainly a lot worse, like in the early 90s. It was a lot less than what it used to be, but it was still there.

“You know, seeing British troops in the streets and having your bag searched on the way to school. Little things like that aren’t normal.

“You never sort of acknowledged that or dealt with it. Look what’s coming up right now with Bloody Sunday, you know, 50 years, and I just saw my auntie K on there, and you’ve got the white handkerchief. It’s been 50 years, and they’re only starting to talk about it now.”

A Bend in the River produces a nostalgic reminder of the past. Colin’s writing paints and provokes many untold stories of Irishmen and women who have fled to find another life.

The story of home and what it is to leave it all behind for a new one. To become an immigrant by choice, and in most cases, by desperation or need. The stillness in John’s delivery is intense, captivating and effortless.

“It has taken so long to process all that trauma, and to come out of an era in NI, of silence, that you can’t talk about The Troubles,” said Colin.

“For a long time you couldn’t talk about what happened in your community, or you’d be ostracized, all that secrecy and silence.

“It’s really only now, what happened to Lyra McKee, you see the documentary with Lyra was just screened at the Belfast Film Festival. You have the documentary of Lyra McKee, you have Kenneth Brannagh’s Belfast, and you have A Bend in the River, that are all sort of talking about this now in very open terms.

“In effect what you’re seeing now are artists saying, here, this is what our past was. I don’t think we were ready to do that, until now. I think this is the moment. These movies will open up a door for more of this sort of thing to happen. But it’s all sort of very new. I don’t think people really know how to feel about it just yet. You know, as an artist, you’re out there, and you try to break that glass wall and say: ‘Okay, let’s just get through here and do this.’

“But the public is still coming to that. You know, it’s much easier if you live outside NI, much easier if you were born or grew up after The Troubles. There’s an entire generation of people who are still struggling to get beyond those labels and the fear.

“We haven’t had a screening in Ireland yet. Next year at some point, we’re coming home and we’re going to have a big premiere in Omagh. We will have a big screening and do it right. I shot the movie where I grew up and to go back home and do that was terrifying. I had this feeling throughout, if I get this wrong.. I will never go home again!”

John trained two time Oscar winner and legendary actor Robert De Niro for his film Grudge Match, released in 2013. De Niro helped him land the role of Scottish boxer Ken Buchanan in the film Hands of Stone.

“It’s mad, hi. I’ve never really had a conversation with anybody really ever about it,” said John.

“I’m like, I worked with De Niro for six weeks and he was a gent. He was sound and such a nice guy. The first few times, he was very quiet. We just did our business and then slowly but surely, he started taking me into his conference and we started talking.

“He said to me one day when we were doing the pads; I had him throwing a left hook, double left hooks. He was like: ‘I remember I was making this movie, Raging Bull, and Jake LaMotta, he was training me.’ I’m like, does he think I don’t know what Raging Bull is, or who Jake LaMotta is?

“He was the reason I ended up being on Hands of Stone, the movie about Roberto Durán. I played Ken Buchanan.

“And the funny thing about that is that Charlie Nash beat Ken Buchanan for the European title. My da Mickey was Ken’s sparring partner for a while as well. Then I ended up portraying him in a movie with De Niro.”

Broderick and Duddy may have left Northern Ireland a long time ago, but together they have finally returned, and with A Bend In The River, they have managed to bring something precious back with them.

A Bend in The River is now available on Amazon Prime, Googleplay, YouTube, to rent or buy.