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close to death 'I call it second chance syndrome' - Paddy Slattery on how he discovered filmmaking after a devastating car crash

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Paddy Slattery

Paddy Slattery

Paddy Slattery

IT was the devastating car accident that almost cost him his life and left him with life-changing disabilities.

But as Paddy Slattery lay recovering in rehab for almost a year after the accident, he started to dream about his future.

It was the kind of disaster that would have thwarted the ambitions of many, but as he recovered, he discovered a passion for filmmaking and developed a goal to make his own movies.

Now, nearly a quarter of a century on, his debut movie Broken Law has been released by Netflix after a Covid-hit movie industry meant it didn’t get seen by as many people as possible last summer.

“I call it a second chance syndrome, when you come so close to death, and then you're handed this opportunity to go on another adventure,” he says. “For me, it just felt like I was handed a miracle back into my hands.

“It genuinely felt in that moment of transition in my life that my body switched off and my imagination switched on. It's almost like when you deprive certain senses in the body, other ones become amplified. I felt like I was seeing, hearing, tasting and touching life in a completely different way.”

Two decades later and with dozens of award-winning shorts and music videos under his belt, Slattery has completed his first feature film which is available to stream now on Netflix Ireland.

Described by one critic as “a headbutt of a thriller”, Broken Law was shot in Dublin’s northside and tells the story of two estranged brothers on opposite sides of the law. Dave Connolly (Tristan Heanue) is a respected Garda whose loyalties are tested when his ex-convict brother Joe (Graham Earley) becomes involved in a violent robbery.

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Graham Earley and Tristan Heanue

Graham Earley and Tristan Heanue

Graham Earley and Tristan Heanue

Dave becomes embroiled in the investigation and gets involved in a secret relationship with Amia, one of the victims of his brother’s crime. The movie also stars Gemma Leah Devereaux and John Connors.

For Paddy, who is quadriplegic and a wheelchair user after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in the accident, there were additional challenges in getting the movie made. “Maybe three significant moments during development and production, I felt emotionally, physically and psychologically broke,” he says.

“I have a really strong family unit and personal assistant unit that look after me, we're like a well-oiled machine. But there were times when my body was basically giving up.

“What I did discover about being a director in a wheelchair is that if you brush up on your communication skills, I think that's the most important tool on a film set, to be able to communicate with many different types of personalities. And I think that's where my real talent lies, in communication with people.

"I worked with a lot of people prior to this film, but the people that I met for the first time on this, we do a lot of discussion and a lot of meetings prior to the shoot. So, by the time we start shooting on day one, we know each other so well.”

Shot in Drumcondra and the streets around Croke Park back in 2019, Broken Law is a gritty thriller reminiscent of Love/Hate with double crosses, deceits, stunts and chases and a tense robbery at its core.

Slattery spent years developing the script and raising finance to get the movie made.

“It was a tough slog, but we eventually got there. I'm really proud and the performances I think are great. It was a story really about faith versus coincidence.

"What we did was, we concentrated on the broader story, the dynamic between the two brothers. The story of loyalty between the brothers and how legacy plays a huge part. As the tagline goes, loyalty is one thing but legacy is another.”

He was just 17 when the car crash occurred 24 years ago. Slattery was working as a tradesman in Dublin and after being dropped off at Edenderry, he and colleagues had hitched a lift to the nearby village of Clonbullogue, Co Offaly, his beloved homeplace where he still lives. He’s replayed events over and over in his head, including the fact that he sat in the front seat and didn’t wear a seatbelt.

Though he never felt depressed or angry about how his life changed, the hard-earned part, he says, was coming to terms with not walking again. All he knew at the time was he was going to Dublin for a life-saving operation.

“After the operation was a success, I was told in a conversation that I was going to Dun Laoghaire (The National Rehabilitation Hospital) for a year, and that I wasn't going to walk again. And that floored me because I genuinely thought at that moment, I would be back in two weeks' time playing football with the lads.

“It was my sister who actually sort of clarified the severity of my injuries because I didn't know what a spinal cord injury really meant. Until she mentioned Christopher Reeve, who at that time, had recently sustained a similar injury.”

It was a supportive and healthy, welcoming environment, and leaving the hospital, he says, was “scary” at first. But he started to hone his creative side, studying film and later making shorts and music videos.

With Broken Law being so well received on initial release last summer, film fans are keen to see what Slattery does next. “I took time out during early lockdown. But now that I've had a few months of chillaxing under my belt, my appetite is there and I want to go back out and do more."

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