For almost 50 years, The Plough and Stars, an Irish pub in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has put its stamp on American culture in various ways: As the birthplace of the literary journal Ploughshares, as an indie-rock hangout in the 1990s, as a watering hole for Philip Roth and David Mamet, and — reportedly — as one of the first Boston-area bars to serve Guinness on tap.
A new documentary by a native Long Islander reveals another function of the little pub: as the headquarters for one man’s campaign to achieve world peace.
Padraig O’Malley, who started the Plough and Stars with his brother, Peter, in 1969, is the subject of “The Peacemaker,” the feature-length debut from James Demo, a Kings Park native now based in the Boston area. The film, which opens Friday at Manhattan’s Cinema Village, reveals that Padraig (pronounced “paw-rick”) O’Malley has for much of his life been working as an independent mediator, attempting to solve impasses in Ireland, Iraq, Kosovo and other crisis zones. What’s more, as a now-sober alcoholic, O’Malley’s philosophy for diplomacy is modeled on that of addiction recovery.
The thinking is that civil conflict, like addiction, is an entrenched behavior passed down through generations, and the ones who best understand it are the ones who have been through it. That’s why O’Malley helped bring Nelson Mandela, for instance, into the Ireland peace talks in 1997, and has been working to facilitate similar cross- cultural meetings ever since.
“The fact that he was using the bar to fund the work — that was a story right there,” says Demo, 47, who wandered into the pub in 2008 and struck up a conversation with O’Malley. “And then when I heard he was in Baghdad looking for AA meetings . . . he was so compelling, I knew that I wanted to follow him.”
Demo came to filmmaking later in life, after graduating from Hofstra University with a business degree and from St. John’s with a law degree, then working for a consulting firm. Throughout those years, Demo took stabs at screenwriting and taught himself how to shoot and edit film.
“There was always this itch that I would scratch on occasion,” Demo says, “but it never went away.” Finally, in 2003, he quit his job and focused his attention on filmmaking.
Demo received funding from the Sundance Institute and various grants, plus money from his own Kickstarter campaign, to finish “The Peacemaker,” which has generated positive buzz on the festival circuit. The Hollywood Reporter called it “a deeply moving portrait of its truly admirable, complex subject.”
Demo is self-releasing the film with a one-week run in Manhattan and a concurrent one in Los Angeles. On Saturday and Sunday, all screenings at Cinema Village will be followed by Q&A sessions with various groups and O’Malley himself.
“Padraig, he’s such a once-in-a-lifetime person. With all his demons — and he is very much an anti-hero — he has an incredible gift,” says Demo. “He has effected some really important change in the world.”
WHEN | WHERE “The Peacemaker” screens daily at 1, 3, 5:15, 7 and 9:15 p.m. Feb. 9 through 15 at Cinema Village, 22 E. 12th St., Manhattan.
INFO $12; 212-924-3364, cinemavillage.com