Brendan J. Byrne
I first visited New York a 17-year-old schoolboy in 1983. I’ll never forget the bus trip from JFK airport to downtown Manhattan where I could have sworn that the guy on the seat opposite me with the black T-shirt and guitar case was none other than Bruce Springsteen himself and the black kids playing basketball in Queens looked like they’d walked straight out of a movie. By the time this solo traveller stepped into the parallel universe of 1980’s 42nd street, I was more excited than I can ever remember. Thus began my love affair with New York that continues to this day.
Since that heady first experience I have spent the last 35 years as a regular traveller across the Atlantic, and indeed, across America. I could even say that America has become something
of a second home, a place I find endlessly fascinating and immediately at ease in. When I learned of the story of Hart Island it connected with me immediately. It seemed to encapsulate something deep I have long felt about this great city and country, a country full of extremes and contradictions; a country so full of promise, but at times heartless and unforgiving.
42nd street has been cleaned up since 1983, and a lot of what made New York so characterful then has been swept up in the gentrification of the property boom and the NYPD’s zero tolerance regime. I still love New York, but it’s a different New York today. It’s still full of promise and possibility, but it’s a place that’s harder on failure than it ever was. Its citizens are never short of a witty retort, but the quality of me first ruthlessness they cloak themselves in for survival means compassion is rarely in ample supply.
In New York and Hart Island together, we have everything that is both great and challenging about both city and country. So while Hart Island provides a lens for me to explore the underbelly of the American dream, I come at the story as someone who instinctively respects the pursuit of that American dream.
In the characters we have assembled to tell our story, we have found strong and interesting individuals for whom fate and circumstance have combined to deal them a poor hand in life; in stories that resonate across poverty, race and the immigrant experience.
As our characters’ stories unfold ONE MILLION AMERICAN DREAMS becomes both an alternative history of perhaps the greatest city on earth and a snapshot of America in 2018.
In many ways, it is a film about heartache and failure, the story of most of our lives. But it is carried by the actions and passions of brave, good-willed individuals who our audience will root for as they search for closure in the most difficult matters one can face – matters of life and death.
Grief is a powerful emotion. And when the circumstances surrounding a loved one’s death remains unresolved, the pain of that loss can often be overwhelming.
It is, therefore, all the more inspiring that our film’s central protagonists shine brightly with a refreshing vitality in what is ultimately a film which celebrates life through the lens of death.