July 8, 1968, New Rochelle, New York
The U.S.-born performer, writer and director Thom Fitzgerald, who officially adopted Canada as his home, has received both domestic and international critical acclaim for his creative versatility and ability to address emotional subject matter, often with a sublime, subtle sense of humour. Haunting, poignant and offbeat, Fitzgerald’s work illustrates a talent for creating — without judgment or sentimentality — portraits of unconventional characters.
Raised in New York, Fitzgerald went on to attend the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in Halifax for a semester, and while he was there, fell in love with Eastern Canada’s terrain. He graduated with a B.F.A. in performance and film, then decided to make a permanent move to the Coast. Fitzgerald remains a fixture in Halifax’s thriving artistic community and has performed in a variety of venues, notably the Charlatan Theatre Collective. His love for collaboration has served him well, especially as he embarked on his filmmaking career with the internationally screened short films Cherries and Canada Uncut (both released in 1995), which were largely inspired by his stage work.
His student film, The Movie of the Week (1990), about a man who believes what happens on television is real, won the Goldstar Award at the Atlantic Film Festival. CBC Radio’s Arts National program described Fitzgerald’s acting in the film as “ambitious... shocking, surprising.” But it was his first feature, The Hanging Garden, made in 1997 when Fitzgerald was 29 years old, which gave him a name in the Canadian filmmaking community.
Fitzgerald both wrote and directed The Hanging Garden, a surreal, eccentric and darkly comic drama. The film centres on Sweet William, a gay man who returns home to Nova Scotia after a decade-long absence to come to terms with his troubled years as an overweight teen and to be reunited with his fractured family. According to Stephen Holden of the New York Times, the film “reinvents the formula” for coming-of-age stories. It won numerous awards, including best Canadian film and most popular film at the Toronto International Film Festival; best Canadian screenplay at the Vancouver International Film Festival; four Genies, among them best direction of a first feature and best screenplay; the FIPRESCI International Critics Award in Portugal in 1998; and awards at the Atlantic Film Festival, Seattle International Festival and Mar del Plata Film Festival in Argentina.
Fitzgerald’s next project was the Genie-nominated Beefcake (1999), a whimsical look into the world of 1950s muscle magazines through the eyes of Bob Mizer, a photographer who founded the Athletic Model Guild in Los Angeles. Part period piece, part docudrama, Beefcake’s tone was described by the Globe and Mail’s Liam Lacey as “affectionately campy,” an approach suited to the film’s subject matter.
While visiting Rumania in 2001 to shoot Wolf Girl, a film for television, Fitzgerald found the inspiration for his next film — The Wild Dogs (2002). The film is about a Canadian pornographer (played by Fitzgerald) whose life intersects with a diplomat’s wife and a city dogcatcher during the annual cull of stray dogs in Bucharest. The film won four awards at the Atlantic Film Festival in 2002.
Thom Fitzgerald, described by programmer David McIntosh as “a brash new director of great sophistication and good humour,” continues to write and direct works that affirm his position as a bold voice in contemporary Canadian cinema.