An interview with CLOUDBURST writer/director, Thom Fitzgerald.
“Sometimes I blush watching the movie but I also know what I cut out, which is much, much worse.” This is a quote from mild-mannered filmmaker, Thom Fitzgerald. From the sounds of it, he is describing his latest film as some raunchy R-rated comedy where young men behave very badly, only this isn’t the case. He is actually talking about CLOUDBURST, his seventh feature film, that tells the story of two aging women who take a road trip to Canada to get married. It’s not what I was expecting either.
CLOUDBURST is based on Fitzgerald’s own 2010 play of the same name, but he probably knew all along the story would not stop there. “When I’m reading any book or watching any play, I am making into a film in my mind,” Fitzgerald shares with me, when me meet in person at the Toronto Inside Out Film Festival. “And it turned out that watching my own play was no different.”
This may seem like a lengthy process but starting on the stage first had its advantages. “Being a play first, it was like the greatest education and rehearsal period. Even though it was a different cast, I was still able to try every line of dialogue different ways and learn about how the audience would feel it.”
Of course the major difference between the stage production and the film version, which is playing throughout Canada this March, is landscape. In CLOUDBURST, Stella and Dot (Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker) are fleeing America, and Dot’s family, to get to Canada so that they can marry and Dot’s family will no longer have the power to put her in a home, thus breaking up their 30 year relationship.
“When they get on the open road, their world just explodes. In the play, they were either inside their home or inside their truck. Film can bring the idea of Canada to life. They become so small amidst those landscapes and that itself speaks to their point of view opening up and expanding as well.”
One point of view that is sure to change after seeing CLOUDBURST is what you thought you knew of Dukakis. The 81-year-old actress explores her more manly side as Stella or, as Fitzgerald puts it, she plays a “ball-busting lesbian.” The things that come out of her mouth are so unexpectedly crude at times that I may have actually spit up more than once when I saw it.
“I certainly wrote it for Olympia,” Fitzgerald says of his third collaboration with the Academy Award winner. “She’s nothing like Stella but I knew she had a lot of things in her that would help her channel Stella. She is a ferocious, outspoken person. She speaks very differently than Stella but she has the same passion.”
When I ask Fitzgerald about why he has worked with Dukakis as often as he has, his answer is simple. “I love her and she inspires me and its kinda that simple. I’m very lucky as an artist, as a director, to have found someone that I really connect with and understand. I admire her and I think admiration fosters inspiration.”
When CLOUDBURST isn’t busy making you laugh and cry, it makes a compelling case for gay marriage. It also explores the topic from a perspective that was quite new to me. “The two women who are about to get married are not thinking about politics at all. They had never considered marriage before because it was never a possibility. For seven decades, that door was closed to them and suddenly that door flies open to them and it’s not a given for them. How do you deal with these complicated feelings?”
As strong as a case that it makes, Fitzgerald would rather focus on the personal over the political. “The politics of it all are outside the script. These two women are talking about their feelings and that was very important to me to focus on because there is ultimately nothing political about it. For someone who is getting married, the absolute last thing on their minds is politics.”
CLOUDBURST is playing across Canada this month and Fitzgerald will be on hand to talk about the film on March 8 in Toronto at the Carlton Cinema. Dukakis will join via satellite for the Q&A as well. (Click here for details.) For more information about the film in your city, click here to visit the film's official site.