It has been seventeen years since Edward Burns broke onto the movie circuit with his Valley Stream-set film “The Brothers McMullen.” With the release of “The Fitzgerald Family Christmas,” the 12th film that he has directed and written, Burns returned to his roots in the Valley Stream area.
Reuniting with “McMullen” co-stars Connie Britton and Mike McGlone, Burns weaves an ensemble story of adult siblings dealing with the desire of their estranged father, played by Ed Lauter, to return home for Christmas for the first time since he walked out on his family 20 years ago. Family conflicts emerge, and like with any family, Christmas brings a slew of complicated emotions and dynamics.
“As I was writing the script, I imagined the Fitzgeralds lived in the house that I grew up in, which was in the Gibson part of Valley Stream,” Burns said. “My folks have since moved, so I called my Mom and said, ‘Anybody back home you think would let us shoot in their house?’ She called her friend Tina Costello, and she said, ‘Of course. If Eddie’s making a movie, he can certainly have the house.’” Burns also shot scenes in Rockville Centre, Lynbrook and Queens Village.
Burns credits his youth in Valley Stream as a major factor in his decision of becoming a filmmaker. “The proximity to Manhattan definitely helped,” he says of his hometown. “My folks both went to high school in Manhattan, and our entire childhood they were constantly telling us that Long Island is a great place for your childhood, but your dreams are going to come true across the river. The fact that I grew up a block from the Gibson train station, and that from the minute I was 14 years old my parents let me go into the city and explore was a definite attribute.
“I always felt the pull,” he added, “and the minute I got a taste of the city I got in there, and I think my films kind of reflect that back and forth, the push and pull of the Long Island suburbs and the excitement of Manhattan.”
Burns’ own family, which consists of his two siblings and his parents, would celebrate Christmas by opening their gifts in Valley Stream, followed by road trips to visit relatives. “We would load up the car and we would first hit our cousins’ house in Queens, and then we would continue on to New Jersey, which is where we spent the bulk of Christmas with my mom’s brother’s family,” he recalled. “What was great about those Christmases was that there were a ton of adults and a ton of kids. Everybody was packed into a small house, it was just a great kind of chaos. There was a lot of laughter, a lot of great story telling, and people jockeying for air time. I have always just loved a big, crowded, noisy house.”
Aside from it being shot in his hometown, “The Fitzgerald Family Christmas” is not a reflection of Burns’s own life. “My family never had to deal with anything as traumatic as what the Fitzgeralds are going through,” he says of the family that he actually named after his grandmother — Fitzgerald was her maiden name.
“My dad is a great dad,” Burns said when comparing fiction to reality. “However, I think these are universal themes. The movie is set against a specific family from a very specific place. After every Q & A about the film, someone comes up to me and says, ‘I’m not Irish, I’m not Catholic, I’m not from Long Island, but that’s my family up on the screen.’”
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is now in theaters and on nationwide video on demand.