Thom Fitzgerald sees life around him as scenes in a motion picture.
The award-winning filmmaker of movies such as The Hanging Garden, The Event and 3 Needles already had the tape rolling in his mind when he saw his play Cloudburst premiere at Halifax’s Plutonium Playhouse last April.
Cloudburst the film debuts at this year's Atlantic Film Festival on Sept 16.
“I knew it would be a film,” says Fitzgerald. “Well, I hoped it would be. Whenever I see a play, read a book, look at a painting, I imagine what a movie version would be like. Even my own play.”
Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker as Dotty and Stella.
He calls Cloudburst a “road trip story” because the characters drive from Maine to Canada to get married. “Even working with the material onstage, I was often imagining the scenes with trees whipping by and wind lashing at the truck,” he says.
Cloudburst is the story of Dotty and Stella, two women who have been together for more than 30 years. After Dotty takes a painful fall and is moved into a nursing home by her granddaughter, the duo break her out and then pull a Thelma and Louise, hitting the road to Nova Scotia.
Stella soon questions her ability to take care of Dotty.
“You may think you know your partner as well as you ever could, but when the world changes, there is always something to learn about your partner, even after 30 years together,” says Fitzgerald. “Also, your family is always changing, too. Early in their trip they pick up a young hitchhiker, Prentice (played by Ryan Doucette), who constantly changes the way they relate to each other.”
Originally inspired by actresses Olympia Dukakis (The Event) and Joan Orenstein (The Hanging Garden), Fitzgerald felt moved to capture their ball-busting, wizened wit. However, Orenstein passed away while he was writing the original play, so actress Brenda Fricker took on the role. Fitzgerald artfully creates a beautiful chemistry between the pair.
“I'd like to say it was inspired by a romantic inspiration. I've had a partner for over a decade [the film's producer, Doug Pettigrew] and am old enough to have spent most of my life thinking marriage to him was not a possibility,” Fitzgerald says. “It was confusing to me to be middle-aged and suddenly have to contemplate the idea of being allowed to marry. And that made me wonder what it is like for people in same-sex relationships who are 60, 70, 80 years old. For the landscape of possibility to change so radically near the end of your life.”
With Dotty and Stella, the audience finds two characters holding back, who have kept their desires buried deep inside for years. But desires can be withheld for only so long; eventually everything bursts forth, as if a storm from the clouds.
The film is a portrait of love, longevity and change.
“This is about a lesbian couple’s struggle to stay together. And then again, it’s not queer. There’s little that happens to Stella and Dot that doesn’t happen to every aging couple,” says Fitzgerald. “One becomes frail; the younger generation feels compelled to interfere with decisions. They start to face their physical limitations. There’s nothing especially queer about growing old together.”
Fitzgerald says he has always wanted to have a world feature film premiere at Oxford Theatre in Halifax. With Cloudburst, his dreams have also come true.
Cloudburst plays Friday, Sept 16 at the Oxford Theatre in Halifax.
For more information on the Atlantic Film Festival, click here