Cloudburst director Thom Fitzgerald gets to the heart of same-sex marriage
How far would you go to keep your family together? Would you even go so far as escaping to a foreign land?
In the case of Cloudburst (which opens in Vancouver on March 15), that promised land is one we call home. But it becomes the destination of choice for an elderly, lesbian, American couple who are threatened with separation. Writer-director Thom Fitzgerald's crowd-pleasing road-trip movie follows the rugged Stella (Olympia Dukakis) and the sweet Dotty (Brenda Fricker), who live in Maine. When Dotty's granddaughter (Kristin Booth) tries to break up the longterm partners by putting Dotty in a nursing home, the pair embark upon a journey to the True North, where same-sex marriage is legal. Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiking modern dancer named Prentice (Nova Scotian actor Ryan Doucette) who helps them on their quest to get legally married.
On the line from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Fitzgerald (3 Needles, The Event) says that although the film followed two lesbian lead characters, he was pleased to see that there were universal humorous and dramatic elements that audiences around the world, from Sudbury, Ontario, to Athens, Greece, and New Zealand, responded to. (He notes that he had a "fantastic" experience at the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival. He found that "the West Coast was unique in its lightness….I think in the east, we're more apt to respond to things that are harder and sadder. [laughs] It's cold here. [laughs]")
He also found it interesting that there was a lack of controversy about the content. He chalks that up to how story's issues, including being lesbian, fade to the background in this film.
"Usually with my films, people latch on to those issues and view the film with their opinion in the forefront….Stella and Dotty never talk about gay marriage as an institution. That's not what you're thinking about when you're going to head down the aisle, is my feeling. So I think that audiences are really seeing it from Stella's point of view, which is not political at all."
What he says comes to the fore instead are the story's core elements.
"I find that there's nobody who doesn't relate to the simple quest of keeping your family together in a tough situation. I guess every family has their moments where tough choices have to be made or forces are trying to pull a family apart. So what Stella wants—keeping her family together—is really understandable to everybody I think. So that's probably why it plays to such a wide variety of cultures."
Over the course of making the film (which was based on Fitzgerald's 2010 stageplay), Fitzgerald says he saw numerous changes occur in the same-sex marriage debate in the U.S., including the shift towards a majority in support of gay marriage. However, in the state of Maine, where the film's story is set, he watched as a bill was signed to legalize same-sex marriage in May 2009, then was rejected by voters in November of the same year. But in November 2012, gay marriage became legal in Maine again by public vote (along with Maryland and Washington state). Fitzgerald says all this vacillation gave him greater insight into social and political progress.
"Things are more unstable than I had really realized. Change isn't really change. It's a million little changes, [this] is what the past couple years has illuminated for me."
Actor Ryan Doucette will participate in person in a post-screening discussion, along with writer-director Thom Fitzgerald via satellite, at the 8:30 p.m. screening of Cloudburst on March 15 at Vancity Theatre.