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In America, truth trails

Los Angeles, Dec. 10 (Reuters): If truth is stranger than fiction, no one knows it better than director and screenwriter Jim Sheridan.

The Irish film maker’s new movie In America, which he labels “semi-autobiographical”, made its debut in major US cities in late November.

In past work like 1989’s My Left Foot and 1993’s In the Name of the Father, Sheridan focused on telling audiences about the real lives of other people — a quadriplegic who overcomes his handicap and becomes a painter and a father and son falsely imprisoned for an Irish Republican Army bombing.

For In America, he turned the spotlight on himself — sort of — because when the tale of his family’s first year in New York seemed unbelievable, he resorted to that time-honoured showbiz tradition. He lied. In storytelling, of course, they call it dramatic licence. In Hollywood they call it a movie. “Here’s the trouble,” Sheridan said. “When you write your own story, you find real life doesn’t have plot points.”

In America is a tale of opportunity, getting a chance to start over, being part of something big and choosing to engage whatever that thing is, as opposed to withdrawing from it.

“I love (the) America of the melting pot. America, now, seems to take one of two choices, either being isolationist or being part of the melting pot. (The pot) is where the dream is, and is important to maintain,” he said.

Sheridan and his family moved to New York in 1982, when he was in his early 30s, and lived in a rundown section of Manhattan. In America tells of an Irishman named Johnny, his wife Sarah, and their daughters, Christy and Ariel, who emigrate to the city under the same conditions. The family wants to start a fresh life, yet are haunted emotionally by the memory of a fifth family member, a boy, who died before they arrived in the city.

As with My Left Foot, and In the Name of The Father, there is talk of an Oscar, in the Hollywood air for In America. And that is the truth.

But many events in the movie are false, Sheridan admits. It opens when Johnny’s family is stopped crossing into the US from Canada. The border patrol that halts them eventually allows them to pass. In reality, Sheridan was stopped by police and arrested. When he lacked money to pay his fine, the cops felt so sorry that they paid the fine and he was free to leave.

The sentiment was the same — welcome to America and good luck — but the truth was stranger than fiction.

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