Another worthy independent film that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival has found distribution. Screen Media Films has acquired North American rights to White Irish Drinkers, a hard-edged coming of age story set in 1975 Brooklyn. Written and directed by John Gray. A spring 2011 theatrical release is planned. Two teenage brothers try to figure out what to do with their lives, each badly bruised from being raised to be terrified by the drunken rages of their father. That role is played by Avatar’s Stephen Lang who plays a hard-drinking Irish blue collar worker handing down the lessons of becoming a man that he learned from his father: repress emotion, and rule with an iron fist. One brother is an art prodigy conflicted about showing his talent, and the other is creeping into the fringes of being a criminal. The drama centers around a deal to have the Rolling Stones come to Brooklyn for a one night only performance, which has implications for all the major characters.
The film stars newcomers Nick Thurston, Geoff Wigdor and Leslie Murphy, and reteams the memorable Animal House couple Karen Allen and Peter Riegert. White Irish Drinkers is produced by Gray and his Ovington Avene partner Melissa Joe Peltier and Bernard/Scura’s Paul Bernard and James Scura. Gray is a TV vet whose credits include Helter Skelter and creating the long-running Jennifer Love Hewitt TV series Ghost Whisperer. Submarine’s Josh Braun brokered the deal with Screen Media’s Robert Baruc and Suzane Blech.
When I saw the film in Toronto, it seemed like one of those gems that could slip through the cracks, and seemed like it might have been a better fit for Sundance. But Gray, who worked for a decade to mount the film based the tale on things he observed growing up in that Brooklyn neighborhood, was not to be denied. And the picture built up steam playing subsequent festivals like Woodstock, where it won the Audience Award.
“Terrified is the best word to describe how I felt going into Toronto, but just getting in was validation,” Gray told me. “This is one of those movies that I had to make. It was small, $680,000 budget and 17 shooting days. A lot of people had gone home by the time it played Toronto, but we packed the house and the audience loved the movie. They really got the message of a film that is certainly about the sons and the father, but also a caper movie, and the idea of someone growing up in that environment who thinks they have a talent that makes them different, and having the courage to step and try to do something with it.”
Here’s the trailer: