Olympia_Dukakis_Ryan_Doucette - CopyWriter-director Thom Fitzgerald’s acclaimed comedy/drama Cloudburst screens in limited release in Australian cinemas next week – some two years after its original release in Northern America. It seems to have been an appropriately slow journey, given the film tells the story of a meandering road trip taken by an older lesbian couple.

“I guess that’s what happens when you have senior citizen lesbians driving the truck – they take the scenic route,” Fitzgerald told the Star Observer from his home in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“I’ve always done films with gay and lesbian characters, but this is the first time I’ve really explored the world of gay and lesbian film festivals – I didn’t know there was such a massive worldwide Mimosa circuit, but I’ve been on it for two years!”

In Cloudburst, Olympia Dukakis plays Stella, a tough, take-no-prisoners woman determined to continue living with her partner Dotty (Brenda Fricker), despite Dotty’s blindness and failing health. Desperate to stay legally bound together, the pair embark on a road trip north of the US border for a quick Canadian marriage. Along the way, they pick up young, gorgeous hitchhiker Prentice (Ryan Doucette), with whom they form an
unlikely bond.

Did Fitzgerald, a 44-year-old gay man, undertake much research before fleshing out his older female characters?

“I feel very much like an old woman on the inside, so it was easy. I know a lot of women like Stella, and I wanted to see a hero like Stella on screen, a mature lesbian hero, because I haven’t really before.”

Dotty and Stella have been together for 30-odd years, and theirs is the sort of loving, occasionally caustic rapport that’s only exhibited by long-term couples. Pointed jibes about weight are followed up by gentle kisses; under-the-doona farts interrupt dirty talk.

“Olympia and her husband celebrated their 50th anniversary last year, and Brenda is a widow of a long marriage, so they both understood what a decades-long relationship felt like, and the innate hostility that comes along with deep love,” he laughed.

“During filming, they would get together each night and talk about the next day’s scenes. The tequila bottle got lower
each night…”

Finding the right combination of actors on screen was a delicate balance, with the casting process unfolding around the star turn from Dukakis, who uses the ‘c’ word enough times in Cloudburst to shock Steel Magnolias fans.

“I wanted to write a role that would both challenge her and allow her to use her repertoire of strength and badassness. She’s very soft and maternal, but with a lot of rage inside her too,” said Fitzgerald.

“With Brenda, she has such a warm and visible strength that I wanted Dotty to have, and I knew they’d have great chemistry together. Ultimately, Brenda was not on Olympia’s list of famous bitches I was not allowed to hire, so the rest was history.”

We recently featured another film tackling the issue of same-sex marriage in the US on these pages, writer David W. Ross’s I Do. Fitzgerald batted away any suggestion he was part of a new wave of politically motivated queer filmmakers.

“When you’re about to walk down the aisle, nobody is thinking about politics. Dotty and Stella certainly aren’t – they’re just thinking of each other.”


Info: Cloudburst screens at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova from July 11. Also in Adelaide, Hobart, Perth – check local listings. cloudburstmovie.com.au

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