In America

1h 43m 2003

Brief Synopsis

To begin all over again is a classic American dream. But it is remarkably hard to do, as Irish immigrants Johnny and Sarah discover when they hit New York City, with their two spunky young daughters, in the mid-1980s. In pursuit of a dream, the family uses ingenuity and sheer strength of will to mak

Film Details

Also Known As
East of Harlem
MPAA Rating
Release Date
Nov 26, 2003
Premiere Information
Toronto International Film Festival: 15 Sep 2002; Sundance Film Festival: 20 Jan 2003; AFI Fest: 7 Nov 2003; LA opening: 20 Nov 2003
Production Company
Hell's Kitchen Productions
Distribution Company
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Ireland, Great Britain and United States
Ireland; New York City, New York, USA; New York, New York, United States; Dublin, Ireland

Technical Specs

1h 43m


In the summer of 1982, young Irish couple Johnny and Sarah Sullivan cross the border from Canada into the United States, hoping to start a new life in New York with their young daughters, Ariel and Christy, as they recover from the death of their four-year-old son Frankie. Although the Sullivans plan to live in New York, they do not have the proper visas and nervously hope that the American border guards will believe that they are just "on holiday." As the guards question the family, Christy thinks of a dream she had in which Frankie said that she could have three wishes, and uses the first by wishing that they could cross the border. After the family is waved ahead, they drive into New York and soon are entranced by the magic of the city's neon lights. With very little money, Johnny and Sarah have difficulty finding a place to live and wind up in a dilapidated apartment building inhabited by an assortment of tenants, including drug dealers and a mysterious man known as "the man who screams." Although Sarah is a teacher, she is only able to get work as a waitress in "Heaven," a nearby coffee shop. Johnny is an actor, but is unable to find work in the theater, despite attending numerous auditions. Undeterred by the hardships, the girls enjoy the bleak surroundings of their large, top floor apartment. The independent, older daughter, Christy, spends much of her time looking through the lens of a camcorder, both taking videos and watching those she had taken of Frankie and the family in happier days. As a heat wave continues, Johnny brings home an old air conditioner, which he eventually gets to work, but it immediately causes the building's electricity to go out. The family then goes to an air-conditioned movie theater where they enjoy seeing E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial . After the movie, Ariel complains that she has no one to play with because Christy "tells her secrets" to the camcorder and Johnny does not play the way he did before Frankie died. Later, the family goes to a carnival where Johnny incrementally risks all of the family's money on a game of chance to win an E.T. doll for Ariel. When Johnny bets all of their rent money on the doll, Christy thinks of Frankie and asks him to grant her second wish. Johnny then wins the doll and is able to keep his money, after which the elated family goes home. As they enter their apartment, Johnny is playing blind man's bluff with the girls, when he suddenly stops, emotionally confessing to Sarah that he was looking for Frankie. Sarah then tells the children to go to her friend Marina at Heaven. Sarah conceives a child during her tender lovemaking with Johnny but afterward cries, blaming herself for Frankie's fall down the stairs. Ariel and Christy attend a local Catholic school in the fall, while Johnny, who still has not gotten any acting jobs, begins working as a cab driver. On Halloween, Sarah makes the girls homemade costumes for a school pageant. The girls are the only children in school with homemade costumes, and when the nuns give the girls special awards for the best homemade costumes, Christy is angry, telling her parents that they only gave them the prize because they felt sorry for them. Later, the girls want to go trick-or-treating like American children, but Sarah and Johnny, fearing for their safety, insist that they stay within the apartment building. The only tenant who answers Ariel and Christy's knock at the door is the man who screams. When he sees the little girls, he looks up at Sarah and smiles, after which he invites the girls in. He tells them that his name is Mateo and allows them to look at his paintings. When he opens his refrigerator, the girls see a number of medications, then Ariel tells Mateo about Frankie, who died two years after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Mateo starts to cry and gives the girls a jar of change for their "treat." That night, Sarah invites Mateo for dinner and serves Colcannon, a traditional Irish dish. Mateo gets a coin and a plastic ring buried in the dish, which the children say is a sign of very good luck. Johnny does not warm to Mateo as do the girls and Sarah, but nevertheless allows them to keep a painting of angels that Mateo has given the family. He also learns that Mateo is apparently well off and has a wife and a son. As Sarah's pregnancy progresses, her doctor warns her that the baby cannot go to full-term as it would be very dangerous for both Sarah and the baby. Later, at the apartment, Sarah and Johnny argue when he accuses her of wanting to have another baby to replace Frankie, and she tells him that he cannot get any acting jobs because he cannot feel. When Johnny angrily leaves the apartment, Mateo sees him and asks why he does not "believe." Johnny snarls that he once asked God for a favor, then accuses Mateo of being in love with Sarah. When Mateo answers that he is in love with everything that lives, Johnny realizes that he is dying and apologizes. After this, the family, even Johnny, becomes closer to Mateo. One night, when Mateo falls unconscious, Christy tries to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Although Ariel worries that Christy will get the terrible disease that Mateo has, Christy does not regret what she has done. As the cold winter months arrive, Mateo becomes weaker and is cared for by Sarah, Johnny and the children. Mateo jokes with the girls that he is an "alien" and, like E.T., is going home, but promises to say goodbye. A short time later, Sarah goes into the hospital. While Johnny tries to take care of the girls and rehearse for an audition, he anguishes about the $5,000 that a hospital administrator says he will need "by Friday." When Johnny tucks the girls in that night, Ariel worries about Johnny, who will not kneel down and say prayers with them. After Sarah and Johnny's baby girl is born, she desperately needs a blood transfusion. An hysterical Sarah lashes out at Johnny and screams that it was his fault that Frankie died because he insisted on putting a gate on the stairs, not realizing that the toddler would try to climb it and fall. She also says if the baby dies, she does not want to wake up. Because the baby needs O negative blood, Christy offers to be the donor. Although they are worried that she might have contracted Mateo's terrible disease, Christy is undaunted and tells her father that she has been carrying the family on her back for over a year, then asks why no one noticed. As Johnny leaves the hospital, the administrator walks past him and says "your check bounced." Johnny then goes to another hospital, where Mateo is near death. Johnny confesses to Mateo that after Frankie died he promised he would never cry again, then returns to the apartment building where he has a violent scuffle with a homeless man to whom he had been giving money. The next day, the baby awakens and has passed the crisis, but at the same time, Mateo dies. Later, when Johnny goes to talk to the hospital administrator about the bill, which has grown to over $30,000, she tells him that it was paid by Mateo. As Christy had promised Mateo, they name the baby after him, Sarah Mateo Sullivan. At the baby's baptismal party, because Ariel is sad that Mateo never said goodbye, Johnny decides to take her onto the fire escape and show her the moon, telling her that if she looks closely, she will see Mateo waving as he rides past the moon on his bicycle, just like E.T. When Ariel calls out "look after Frankie," Johnny starts to cry as he, too, says goodbye to Frankie, fulfilling Christy's third wish. Sarah and Johnny then embrace, and Christy switches off her camcorder because she now only wants to remember Frankie in her head.


Renata Adamidov

Prod exec, Hell's Kitchen, Los Angeles

Patricia Adlesic

Prod Supervisor, New York unit

Luis Aguilera


Danny Aiello Iii


Hakan Akesson


Philip Alton

Dial/ADR Editor

Frank Appecilli

Driver, New York unit

William Arnot

'A' Camera/Steadicam op, New York unit

Russ Bailey

Const Manager

Mark Bakowski

Digital compositor

Antony Baldasare

On set dresser, New York unit

Brooks Baldwin

Dialect coach

Helen Ball

Digital compositor

Joshua Barraud

Stand-by props, addl Photographer

Naoise Barry

Assistant loc Manager

Alan Barton

Unit driver, addl Photographer

John Bateman

ADR mixer

Ernie Beakhurst

Unit driver



Sharon Beatty

Wardrobe Assistant

Don Bell


Joan B. Benjamin

Tutor, New York unit

Daniel Birch

Sound mixer/Prod Sound rec

Michael Blair

Drums, percussion, tuned percussion

Mans Block


Harry Bluestone


Andrew Boland

All Music rec and mixed by

Monica Bolger




Paula Boran

Foley artist

David Boulton

ADR mixer

Pieter Bourke


Stephen Broughal

Carpenter, addl Photographer

Brian Brown

Chef, New York unit

Lisa Brown

2d Assistant chef, New York unit

Ted Brown

Driver, New York unit

Keith Bryant

Film lab Coordinator

Kent Buchanon


Mike Buchman

Driver, New York unit

Joseph Buonocore Jr.

Driver, New York unit

Mark Burchard

Wardrobe Supervisor, New York unit

Noel Burke


Michelle Butler

Wardrobe trainee, addl Photographer

Aidan Byrne

Special Effects crew

Aran Byrne

Trainee props

Brendan Byrne

Special Effects Coordinator

Brian Byrne

The Irish Film Orchestra Conductor

David Byrne

Carpenter, addl Photographer

Dermot Byrne

Special Effects crew

Johnny Byrne

Set Decoration

Maurice Cabrera

Parking Coordinator, New York unit

Emil Cadkin


Eugene Campbell

Carpenter, addl Photographer

Eugene Campbell


Ramon Campos


Philip C. Canfield

Leadman, New York unit

Scott Canfield

Set dresser, New York unit

Mark Cannon

Stand-by carpenter, addl Photographer

Michael Canosa

Driver, New York unit

Michael Canzoniero

Digital Camera, New York snow unit

Ken Carlisle


Simon Carmody

Prod consultant

John Carr

Practical Electrician

Simon Carr

Digital compositor

Orla Carroll

Chief hairdresser

Stephen Carroll

Action vehicle Coordinator

Stephen Carter

Assistant art Director, New York unit

Frank Cattano

Loc Assistant, New York unit

Timothy Cavagin

Re-rec mixer

Tony Clarke


Bronwyn R. Clohissey

Painter, addl Photographer

Dermot Coleman

Practical Electrician

Fionn Comerford

Clapper loader, addl Photographer

Mariela Comitini

Set prod Assistant, New York unit

Joe Condren

Stunt Coordinator

Michael Connell

Music Editor

Brendan Connolly

Driver, New York unit

Brian Connolly

Sound trainee, addl Photographer

Michael Connolly

Driver, New York unit

Eileen Conroy

Unit nurse

Louis Conroy

Electrician, addl Photographer

Antoine Contreras


Willie Cooley


Gay Cotes

Carpenter, addl Photographer

Dougal Cousins

Loc Manager, addl Photographer

M. Craig


Timmy Crimmins


Eddie Cullen


Geoff Cullen

Unit driver

Jason Cullen


Jimmy Cullen

Transport capt/Transport Coordinator

Susie Cullen

Art Director

Tony Cullen

Unit driver

Clare Cunningham

Assistant accountant

Steven Curtis

Driver, New York unit

Colette Dahanne

ADR rec

Fiona Daly

Supervisor art Director, addl Photographer

August Darnell


John F. Davis

Storyboard artist, New York unit

Angel Deangelis Haiko

Chief hairdresser, New York unit

Clodagh Deegan

Wardrobe Assistant, addl Photographer

John Delaney

Stand-by stagehand, addl Photographer

Jill Dempsey

Crowd Coordinator

Des Bishop


Conor Devlin


Jimmy Devlin

Unit driver

Judith Devlin

Wardrobe Supervisor

Ruth Dipasquale

Assistant Props master, New York unit

Enda Doherty

Utility stand-in

Maire Doherty

Assistant Coordinator

John P. Dolan

Best boy grip, New York unit

Shane Donnelly


David Donohue

Music Supervisor

Joe Donohue

Dolly grip, New York unit

Norman Douglass

Johnny stunt double

Tom Dowling

Const Coordinator, addl Photographer

Julie Dowsett


Stephen Driver


Alan Dunne

Chargehand dressing Props

Nicky Dunne

Avid Assistant Editor

David Durney

Electrician, addl Photographer

Mark Dwyer


Emer Egan

Assistant accountant, addl Photographer

El Son


Bruce Elliot-smith


Stephen Elliot-smith


Tracy Ershow

Set prod Assistant, New York unit

Owen Farrell

Clapper loader

Joe Feathersone

Driver, New York unit

Andrew Felton

Sound trainee

Kerin Ferallo

Prod Coordinator, New York unit

Morna Ferguson

Key makeup artist

Richard Fettes

Addl dial Editor

James Finnerty Jr.

Key grip, New York unit

John Finnerty

Grip, New York unit

Joseph Finnerty

Grip, New York unit

Martin Fitzpatrick

Special Effects crew

Carrie Fix

2d Assistant Director, New York unit

Gavin Flanagan

Carpenter, addl Photographer

Aeveen Fleming

Art Department trainee

Thomas Ford

Rigging gaffer, New York unit

Glenn Frey


Gavin Friday

Comp/Original Music wrt, Arrangements & prod

Gavin Friday


Therese Friel

2d Assistant Director, addl Photographer

Freddie Funk


Louise Gaffney

Script Supervisor

Barbara Galavan

Legal consultant

Brian Gallagher

ADR rec

Mel Gallagher

Accounts trainee

Joyce Gallie

Casting, U.K.

Theresa Gantley

Unit nurse, addl Photographer

Catherine George

Wardrobe Supervisor, New York unit

Mark Geraghty

Production Design

Naomi Geraghty


Lisa Gerrard


K. Scott Gertsen

Const foreman, New York unit

Jimmy Gillen

Stand-by stagehand

Patrick Gilligan

Camera car driver, addl Photographer

Peter Gleaves

ADR mixer

J. W. V. Goethe


Lewis Goldstein

Effects Editor

Ingrid Goodwin

Prod Secretary

Ciara Gormley

Assistant art Director

Alex Gorodetsky


Lalit Goyal

Conforming Assistant

Vivienne Gray

Art Director, addl Photographer

Leroy Green


John Greene

Chargehand carpenter

Adrienne Greenhalgh

Utility stand-in

Gerry Grennell

Voice coach

Lar Griffin


David Gross

Set prod Assistant, New York unit

Jose Guerrero

Loc Assistant, New York unit

Ken Hammer

Const Coordinator, New York unit

Peter Harrison

Addl prod Assistant, New York unit

Graeme Haughton

Electrician, addl Photographer

R. Hay


Christopher Heaps

Set dresser, New York unit

Sue Henderson

Accountant, Hell's Kitchen

Don Henley


Kristin Hensley

Set prod Assistant, New York unit

Nye Heron

Associate Producer

Cort Hessler Iii


Richard Hetherington

Boom Operator

Don Hewitt


Lori Hicks

Key makeup artist, New York unit

Noel Holland


Jo Homewood

Production Manager

Tom Horvath

Driver, New York unit

Alex Hudd

Dolby eng

Amanda Hudson

2d Assistant Camera, New York unit

Gareth Hughes


Peter Hunt


John Inwood

Super 16 Camera, New York snow unit

Jimmy Irwin

Supervisor plasterer, addl Photographer

Peter Isaac

Rec's Assistant

Ken Ishii

Sound mixer/Stand-by, New York unit

Konrad Jay

1st Assistant Director

Andrew Jeffery

Visual Effects Coordinator

Film Details

Also Known As
East of Harlem
MPAA Rating
Release Date
Nov 26, 2003
Premiere Information
Toronto International Film Festival: 15 Sep 2002; Sundance Film Festival: 20 Jan 2003; AFI Fest: 7 Nov 2003; LA opening: 20 Nov 2003
Production Company
Hell's Kitchen Productions
Distribution Company
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Ireland, Great Britain and United States
Ireland; New York City, New York, USA; New York, New York, United States; Dublin, Ireland

Technical Specs

1h 43m

Award Nominations

Best Actress

Samantha Morton

Best Original Screenplay


Best Supporting Actor

Djimon Hounsou




The film's working title was East of Harlem. The story was narrated throughout by the offscreen voice of Sarah Bolger as her character, "Christy Sullivan." End credit acknowledgments thank a number of organizations and individuals, and note the inclusion of film clips from the 1982 Steven Spielberg-directed Universal release E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, the 1939 John Ford-directed The Grapes of Wrath and the 1958 Kurt Neumann-directed The Fly, both released by Twentieth Century-Fox. The film E.T. and the toy "E.T." doll, which was extremely popular after the film's release, are referenced at several points within In America.
       In America was inspired by actual events in the life of director-writer Jim Sheridan, who in 1982 moved with his wife and two young daughters to New York and lived there until 1988. Sheridan co-wrote the screenplay with his daughters Naomi and Kirsten, who were respectively represented by the characters "Ariel" and Christy in the film. Although a central theme of the film is the family's grief over the death of their young son "Frankie," and the film's credits include the dedication "To the memory of Frankie Sheridan," the real Frankie was not Sheridan's son, but his younger brother, who died at the age of ten, when Sheridan was seventeen. Like the film's Frankie, the real Frankie died of a brain tumor.
       In interviews, Sheridan has stated that the character of "Johnny Sullivan" is a composite of himself and his own father, as well as fictional elements. According to the film's pressbook, two incidents recounted in the film were taken from Sheridan's own life, although somewhat altered: Sheridan stated in interviews that he stole an old air conditioner during a New York heat wave and lost their rent money trying to win a carnival doll. These incidents are dramatized within In America, but it is not made clear how Johnny acquired the air conditioner and, although Johnny risks their rent money, he wins the doll and keeps their money.
       The film's pressbook and various published interviews with Sheridan state that he had been developing the idea for the film for ten years following a chance encounter with a former "Hell's Kitchen" neighbor. The incident took place in 1990, while Sheridan was in Los Angeles attending the Academy Awards ceremony as a Best Director nominee for his 1989 film My Left Foot. Interviews and the pressbook also state that Sheridan and his two daughters wrote independent drafts of the screenplay based on their own recollections, and compared them at various intervals.
       Within the film, the character of Christy spends much of her time looking through the lens of a home video recorder, taking pictures and reviewing videos from the past. The actual video camera used within the film was a newer and smaller version than would have been available in 1982, when home video cameras were much larger, heavier and less manageable for a child to use. Sheridan stated in interviews that the video camera, like some of the film's music, was deliberately made anachronistic to give the film a more timeless feeling. Although it is implied within the film that "Mateo" had AIDS, his disease is never identified.
       According to an item in the Daily Variety "Dish" column on March 8, 2001, British actress Kate Winslet was originally to portray "Sarah" in the film, but scheduling conflicts that arose after the production was pushed back following the actors' strike prevented her taking the role. Christy and Ariel were portrayed by real-life sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger. Emma made her feature film debut in the picture. According to the pressbook, Emma, who auditioned first, insisted that Sheridan also audition her older sister. Although in the original screenplay the character Christy was about three years older than the then ten-year-old Sarah, Sheridan was so impressed with her that he changed the character's age.
       Most of the film's interiors, plus some exteriors, such as the carnival sequence, were shot in Dublin and at Ardmore Studios in Ireland. Most of the exteriors were shot at various seasons in New York City. According to the film's pressbook, the location for the tenement building, a principal interior in the story, was actually an old Irish castle that was made to appear like a run-down New York apartment.
       The film was well received in various film festival appearances and in its North American openings. According to a Los Angeles Times news item on November 8, 2003, Fox Searchlight Pictures was planning to send out movie tickets to the film to approximately 25,000 movie awards voters throughout the U.S. This was done in response to a late 2003 ban on movie "screeners" that was instituted by the MPAA in an attempt to curtail video piracy.
       In addition to being named one of the ten best films of the year by AFI, and being named "Audience Favorite" at the November 2003 AFI Fest, In America received Academy Award nominations in the categories of Best Actress (Samantha Morton), Best Supporting Actor (Djimon Hounsou) and Best Original Screenplay. The picture also received two Golden Globe nominations, one for Jim, Naomi and Kirsten Sheridan for Best Screenplay-Motion Picture, and one for Bono, Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer for Best Original Song-Motion Pictures for "Time Enough for Tears." The Sheridans won a Best Screenplay Critics' Choice Award from the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
       The picture was named Best Picture by the National Board of Review and was the recipient of the Producers Guild of America's Stanley Kramer Award, which honors a company, individual or production that addresses provocative social issues in an uplifting fashion. Independent Spirit Awards were presented to Hounsou for Best Supporting Male and to Declan Quinn for Best Cinematography. Additional Independent Spirit nominations included Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Female Lead (Morton) and Best Supporting Female (Sarah Bolger).

Miscellaneous Notes

Nominated for the 2003 award for Best Original Screenplay by the Writer's Guild of America (WGA).

Nominated for the 2004 Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) award for Best Ensemble Cast.

Voted one of the 10 best films of 2003 by the American Film Institute (AFI).

Winner of the Audience Award at the 2003 AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival November 6-16, 2003.

Limited Release in United States November 26, 2003

Released in United States Fall November 26, 2003

Released in United States January 2003

Released in United States May 2003

Released in United States November 2003

Released in United States on Video May 11, 2004

Shown at Tribeca Film Festival in New York City (Special Screenings) May 3-11, 2003.

Released in United States January 2003 (Shown at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres) January 16-26, 2003.)

Released in United States May 2003 (Shown at Tribeca Film Festival in New York City (Special Screenings) May 3-11, 2003.)

Released in United States on Video May 11, 2004

Released in United States November 2003 (Shown at AFI/Los Angeles International Film Festival (Special Screening) November 6-16, 2003.)

Limited Release in United States November 26, 2003

Released in United States Fall November 26, 2003

Hell's Kitchen is Jim Sheridan's production company.