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This article was published 14/9/2011 (3665 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
HALIFAX - Thom Fitzgerald describes his latest movie as a heartbreaking glimpse into aging and ailing, and the complex troubles that can bring.
The award-winning director is discussing his new feature film "Cloudburst," a funny yet poignant story about an elderly couple forced to separate because of infirmity and ignorance.
It is a love story, but one with cross-border politics, prejudice and a heavy dose of expletives from one of its grey-haired protagonists who is fighting to stay with her spouse of 30 years.
The wrinkle is that the couple are lesbians who have grown used to their quiet, private life on a rugged New England coast and haven't had to consider a future apart or what they might have to do to prevent that.
"This is a family struggling to stay together in the face of old age," Fitzgerald said in Halifax, days before Cloudburst premieres Friday at the Atlantic Film Festival.
"And that isn't particular to gays and lesbians at all."
The genesis of the film, featuring Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker, came from Fitzgerald's personal experience with elderly members of his extended family.
The director behind "The Hanging Garden," "Beefcake" and "The Event" watched as the couple were split up with one placed in a care home for health reasons.
That reality is played out painfully and with humour by the seventy-something pair: Stella is bullish, foul-mouthed and losing her hearing; and Dot is her polite, sensitive, dry-witted and blind partner.
Their comfortable life together is shaken when Dot, played by Fricker, hurts herself when she falls out of bed as Stella teases her with a vibrator. Dot's prudish granddaughter, who is blind to their true relationship, decides to move her to a nursing home in Maine without consulting Stella.
The separation sets Stella on a mission to free her partner from the home and find a way to keep them together.
Her solution? Take Dot across the border with the help of a young hitchhiker and into Canada where they can legally marry.
For Dukakis, an Academy award winner who had worked with Fitzgerald twice before, the plot line came as U.S. legislators were faced with growing pressure to sanction or oppose same-sex marriage.
"I thought the play was hitting at a time that was very interesting for us politically and socially in terms of our ability to understand lives that are lived differently," she said from New York.
"Our basic problem in America is our intolerance for differences.
"And I thought the characters were really moving and I thought my character was very much in the fight — not a good one, not a smart one but her fighting spirit is very much there."
For Fitzgerald, who initially staged "Cloudburst" as a play last year after writing the script with Dukakis in mind, the shift in U.S. and Canadian politics was disarming and forced him to look at his own domestic situation with his male partner.
The writer, who came to Canada from New York in the late '80s, said he had never expected to be able to marry his partner and gave it little thought. So when it became possible in Nova Scotia in 2004, he wanted to explore what it must be like for an elderly couple like Stella and Dot.
"The story comes from thinking about how much the world has changed in my lifetime and what it's like for people who have lived one way for a lifetime and suddenly doors open that were always closed," said Fitzgerald, 43.
"That can really throw a person a little off kilter."
Dukakis said she was immediately drawn to the part, having felt an isolation similar to Stella's as a child of Greek immigrant parents in a predominantly Irish neighbourhood in Massachusetts.
"She's such an outsider and it's had its toll on her, but she's rebelled against it and insisted on having some kind of life," she says. "The play hooks into the older gay women who are carrying a lot of the restraints and prejudices of the last 20, 30 and 40 years."
"Cloudburst" was shot over seven weeks in Nova Scotia.