The Hole In The River Will Make You Think
Phil Lombardi is an attorney turned writer who wrote the gritty, but feel-good drama named The Hole In The River. It is reminiscent of Stand By Me and is set in small town America in the 1970’s, where four boys defend a down-and-out Muslin man who is falsely accused and jailed by a bigoted sheriff. These boys too are bullied and are misfits because of their ethnicity. They are marginalized because they don’t fit into mainstream America, and they feel they must make a stand against a white and entitled America.
It takes a great deal of courage to talk of racism and loads of empathy when you are not a subject to it yourself. We chatted up with Phil Lombardi about his life and works.
After Hour : The Hole In The River deals very sensitively with racism. What was the inspiration behind the plot and the time period during which it is set?
Phil : When I wrote The Hole in the River, I was inspired by the movie Stand by Me, a group of misfits (aren’t we all?) who, despite the world’s efforts to beat them down, take heart and dream big. It was set in the 1970’s at the time of the OPEC oil embargo which fueled anti-Arab sentiment.
After Hour : From an attorney to a writer, how was the journey? Please tell us a bit about this shift in career.
Phil : My attorney talents are meager. My natural tendency toward compromise and tolerance does not make for a good courtroom attorney. Luckily, I landed a writing job for Federal judges, writing memos and opinions. Eventually, I became the court clerk for the Federal courthouse in Tulsa, OK.
After Hour : In our last season you had submitted another script named Chilocco, in that the protagonist Carmelita was fighting against a system that's essentially filled with white supremacists. You have a deep empathy for victims of racism and that's wonderful. Can you please tell us a bit about how your experiences and surroundings instilled this empathy in you?
Phil : Chilocco was inspired by research of government boarding schools for Native Americans from the late 1800’s through 1960. The goal of these schools was to eradicate all tribal identity. My empathy for victims of racism began as a boy modeling his father. My father had a childlike love of all people. He was not an ideologue, but was utterly unable to see race, color, or gender as divisive. His eyes were focused on commonality. He engaged everyone with joy, asking them about their families, hopes, education, dreams and listening with devotion to their stories. Later, venturing into the world, I discovered to my shock that my father was an anomaly. That shock still reverberates inside me.
After Hour : What do you do when you are not writing?
Phil : When not writing, I read, watch TV and movies, and cook down-home meals such as roast with potatoes and gravy, fried chicken, lasagna, and beef stroganoff. I also golf with my friends. I’m terrible at the game, but going outside to play with my friends? Doesn’t that sound like childhood? Who doesn’t like that?
After Hour : Which are the writers whose work you enjoy the most?
Phil : I admire the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Every script is solid, good stuff. My latest admiration goes to Greta Gerwig. Her direction and script of Little Women was electrifyingly good. How did she bring together the original story with such dramatic brilliance? I watched the movie and tried to recreate her process in my head. After that, I watched the movie again. Margaret Atwood is a prophetic genius, and you can’t put her books down! Stephen King is a national treasure. Stories bubble up out of him like an eternal spring.