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Interview With Award-Winning Filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald

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During the 2011 Vancouver International Film Festival, I fell in love with the film "Cloudburst", by Halifax-based Thom Fitzgerald, and wrote a review about it. The film took the 2011/2012 festival circuit by storm, winning 30 best picture awards across Canada, the U.S. and abroad.

I'm excited to announce the film will be screening across Canada for a limited theatrical release! "Cloudburst" will be playing in Vancouver March 15 - April 1 at Vancity Theatre and in Victoria on Sunday and Monday at the Cinecenta.

It stars Academy Award winners Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker as an elderly lesbian couple on the lam, who flee to Nova Scotia to get married. Comic Ryan Doucette plays the hunky hustler hitchhiker. "Cloudburst" was written, directed and produced by Fitzgerald, who I had the opportunity to interview this week about the film.

I originally wrote a review for "Cloudburst" after attending a screening during the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2011. What made you decide to re-release the film now?

Vancouver IFF was one of the first public screenings of "Cloudburst." I went around the globe with the film doing "mainstream" (for lack of a better word) film festivals, and then went around the globe again on the GLBT film festival circuit, which I now lovingly call the "mimosa circuit"... So the movie just had legs. Or wheels in this case. I guess with two old lesbians driving the truck it took the scenic route to a theatre near you.

Of all the films that year, I distinctly remember the audiences reaction to "Cloudburst" -- a lot of laughs throughout and eventually, not a dry eye in the house. Where did the inspiration for your leading ladies -- Stella and Dot -- come from?

Oh, Stella has Olympia's vim, rage and her willingness to speak her mind -- otherwise they're very different, as Olympia is very maternal and wise in real life, but Olympia was certainly an inspiration. There are a lot of Stella and Dots in the world -- bold, older, feisty, brave women- just not as movie heroes. So those women inspired me to write it.

The cinematography in "Cloudburst" is absolutely stunning. It really showcases the natural beauty of maritime Canada; in fact, Nova Scotia feels like the unsung character. Did you consider any other locations for the film?

I had shot all around the globe: Africa, Asia, Montreal, New York, Eastern Europe. So I really did want to shoot in Nova Scotia and be home. I think it's a lovely journey from New England to Nova Scotia. When you see the women at home in Maine, their world is very small in their little house by the sea. When they get to Canada, the vistas open up, the women become small in the frame -- Nova Scotia is full of openness and possibility.

"Cloudburst" was clearly a hit among the film festival community. Congratulations on the long list of awards! Why do you think this film was so well received?

I would like to take the credit, but it's clear that the chemistry between the three lead actors -- Olympia Dukakis, Brenda Fricker and Ryan Doucette -- is what people love. They're simply a pleasure to watch. The sense of Dot and Stella's old, vintage love infused with young Prentice's naivete. People laugh at the strong sense of characters, their flaws, their depth, because they seem familiar and likable.

You've been quoted saying "I think an old dyke is the perfect romantic heroine." While I completely agree, why do you think Dukakis' character resonated with audiences so well?

As an 80-year-old butch lesbian, Stella may be an unusual movie hero, but her central dilemma, her goal, is to just keep her family together. Gay or straight, conservative or liberal, god-fearing or agnostic, everybody can relate to that simple quest. People root for her, they want Stella to win. That she has no self-censoring mechanism helps -- we'd all love to be that socially inept and honest from time to time.

Do you think audiences are becoming more tolerant and accepting of LGBT themes in film?

Audiences have moved beyond tolerant of LGBT themes. I think the entertainment industry is tolerant. Audiences -- a huge audience, the majority in the western world -- is simply accepting of gay characters. "Cloudburst" is a romance between two elderly women. They're not coming out of the closet or trying sex for the first time, as in the largest quantity of films with gay characters. They're trying to stay out of the nursing home, a crisis to which their sexuality is relatively incidental. Not entirely, but all octogenarian couples face similar obstacles.

I'm in the midst of drafting my first screenplay. What advice would you offer aspiring filmmakers?

Oh, everyone's so different. Do it your way. If you want to make superhero studio blockbusters, go to L.A. and knock on those doors and put the time and training in. If you want to make character pieces, slice of life dramas or comedies, go ahead and do it. Go to work on sets, volunteer, see how things work, learn and then implement that knowledge in a way that works for you.

You don't need to spend $100,000 on film stock anymore, you need a hard drive for a few hundred bucks. And I guess, in a practical sense, either hold on to the rights or have a strong understanding, agreement and trust with your producers and/or distributors, in advance of making a commitment. There are a million ways to find an audience now. You're in Vancouver -- Canadians have an innate desire to seek permission to make their art work -- a Canada Council grant or a Telefilm development loan. That's great if you are good at writing applications and prone to luck. Otherwise, f&ck it, don't seek permission, do it because it's what you do, however you can do it.

What can we expect to see from you next? Any new projects you'd like to divulge?

I'm doing two TV series this year! I've never done a TV series but I watch them a lot so it's exciting. "Forgive Me" is about a young priest caught up in his congregation's confessions for Super Channel. The other is "Sex&Violence" about social workers dealing with the aftermath of domestic violence, very raw stuff, for OUTtv, and Olympia is in that one too.