EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 9, 2007

Life of short-story great Dubus featured in film

By Jason Tait , Staff Writer

HAVERHILL - Several stories written by the late Andre Dubus were transformed into screenplays for Hollywood films. Now the camera is being pointed directly at his life.

It catches images of his resting place in Haverhill, the places he frequented, and his family, friends and literary peers who tell the story of his life for a new documentary film.

The film, "The Times Are Never So Bad: The Life of Andre Dubus," is directed and produced by Fall River native Edward Delaney, a journalist and writer who teaches at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island and admires Dubus' fiction writing. The first part of the movie title is borrowed from one of Dubus' short stories.

The movie takes viewers across America, from Dubus' favorite bar in Bradford Square in Haverhill to Stanford University in California to interview famed writer Tobias Wolff - a close friend of Dubus.

Delaney interviews several Dubus family members, including Dubus' son, Andre Dubus III of Newbury, who wrote the national best-selling book "House of Sand and Fog."

As it turns out, telling a compelling story about the elder Dubus, who died unexpectedly in 1999, was easy to do, Delaney said.

"No. 1, this guy had a tremendously interesting life," Delaney said. "And the Dubus family and the extended family are all such great storytellers. It's in the blood with most of them."

Delaney's big break came recently when the film was selected to be shown at the Rhode Island International Film Festival Aug. 7 to 12. He has entered the film in several other film festivals, but he said he has not thought much about whether it will be a hit in theaters. He said it may just be seen in classrooms or by people who buy the DVD when it is produced.

Delaney does not expect to make much money from the film.

"I'm just letting it roll," he said.

Delaney has not scheduled a showing of the film locally, though that may happen, he said.

When Delaney approached the Dubus family with an idea for a film, the younger Andre Dubus agreed - he knew Delaney from literary circles and liked him. He thought Delaney would present an accurate portrait of his father in the first documentary film ever done about the short-story master.

"I just felt that my father was in safe hands with him," he said of Delaney.

The elder Dubus raised his family in Haverhill, teaching at Bradford College from 1966 to 1984 and writing short stories, many of which were published in books and magazines. He was an acclaimed author who won a MacArthur Foundation grant.

After his death from a heart attack in 1999, two movies were made based on his fiction.

"In the Bedroom" was based on his short story "Killings." That movie, starring Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson, was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

The movie "We Don't Live Here Anymore" was based on two of Dubus' short stories - "We Don't Live Here Anymore" and "Adultery." It starred Naomi Watts, Laura Dern, Peter Krause and Mark Ruffalo.

Dubus is known as a master short-story writer who was respected across the spectrum of fiction authors.

Delaney's movie attempts to tell the story about how Dubus' short stories were influenced by his life. During his many interviews, he found that Dubus' fiction was intimately interwoven with reality, telling the stories of people trying to overcome fear and having the courage to do the right thing.

One such life-changing event was when Dubus' daughter was raped at a young age, causing him to carry a firearm for many years in an attempt to defend his family.

In 1986, more personal tragedy struck.

He was driving from Boston to Haverhill when he stopped to assist disabled motorists on Interstate 93. As he was helping, a car hit him, crushing his legs. His left leg was amputated above the knee, and he would eventually lose the use of his right leg. He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

It was during this period that Delaney met the author - and even then, only briefly - in the early 1990s when Dubus was doing a literary reading at Roger Williams.

Delaney's writing appears regularly in The Atlantic Monthly magazine, and he was a newspaper reporter for The Denver Post, Chicago Tribune and Providence Journal.

The film cost between $10,000 and $15,000 to make. Delaney used a digital camera, a Macintosh computer - and a lot of gasoline to drive across the country. Delaney's college helped out with the fuel costs, he said.

He started the interviews last year, edited an early version of the film and showed it at a small film festival in Rhode Island earlier this year. The viewers wrote critiques, which Delaney used to fine-tune the film and add additional interviews.

Some notable interviews for the documentary include Richard Russo, author of "Empire Falls," and James Lee Burke, a mystery writer.


Andre Dubus, writer and father

Born: Aug. 11, 1936, in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Died in Haverhill Feb. 24, 1999, of a heart attack at age 62.

Military: Six years in the Marine Corps, rising to the rank of captain.

Teaching: Bradford College professor from 1966 to 1984.

Children: Six, including Andre Dubus III, author of the novel "House of Sand and Fog," which was made into a movie.

Tragedy strikes: Dubus was driving from Boston to Haverhill in 1986 when he stopped to help disabled motorists on Interstate 93. He was hit by a car and eventually lost the use of his legs.

Helping hand: Well-known writers such as John Updike and Kurt Vonnegut held a fundraiser to help his family after the crash.

Movies: Two films were made based on his fiction - "In the Bedroom," based on the short story "Killings," and "We Don't Live Here Anymore," based on his short stories "We Don't Live Here Anymore" and "Adultery."


If you go

What: Rhode Island International Film Festival

When: Aug. 7 to 12

Ticket Information: www.riiff.org