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Friday, August 29, 1997

Hanging Garden director blinded by spotlight

By ELISSA BARNARD -- The Halifax Herald

Thom Fitzgerald was painting his kitchen cupboards in Halifax when his film was being announced in Toronto as the opener for Perspective Canada at the Toronto International Film Festival.

"It took a little while for me to get it," says Fitzgerald, on the phone from San Francisco. "I didn't realize I was the news." His movie, The Hanging Garden, is one of 21 features and 31 shorts chosen from 283 films for Perspective Canada.

Fitzgerald, a Halifax-based filmmaker, spent three years in Duncan's Cove writing The Hanging Garden and a fourth year making it as a Halifax, Montreal and Toronto co-production with funding from Britain's Channel 4 and other Canadian funders. He is now feeling "nervous and daunted" by all the attention.

"My schedule is demented. I'm supposed to be in Spain on the 20th and Halifax on the 19th. I'm supposed to be in Halifax, Spain and Vancouver all in one week."

The Hanging Garden has been invited to the Vancouver Film Festival, the San Sebastian Film Festival and the London Film Festival in England. "That makes it a popular film on the festival circuit, I think we can officially say that. I'm nervous, I'm glad."

The Hanging Garden, a darkly comic story about the return of a gay man, Sweet William, to his Nova Scotia home after he left 10 years ago, gets its world premiere Friday, Sept. 5, at the Toronto film festival.

The day will start for Fitzgerald with a luncheon sponsored by Telefilm Canada, followed by a 500-person reception held by the Canadian distributor for The Hanging Garden, Cineplex Odeon Films Canada, and then the screening. After the screening CTV is holding a party for 2,000. Fitzgerald is already fully booked for media interviews. "I'm going to be a zombie."

Given that The Hanging Garden opens the Atlantic Film Festival two weeks later on Sept. 19, Fitzgerald is very excited that Halifax crew - Shandi Mitchell, first artistic director; James Worthen, costume designer; Gilles Belanger, line producer, and Michael Weir, set decorator - are flying to Toronto for the premiere screening, and 17-year-old South Shore actor Troy Vienotte, who plays the young Sweet William, is taking the train.

New Zealand actor Kerry Fox, Toronto's Chris Leavins (Traders) and Sarah Polley, also starring in this year's big Canadian films, The Sweet Hereafter by Atom Egoyan and Clement Virgo's The Planet of Junior Brown, will be there too.

Fitzgerald is also excited and nervous that his mother, Pat Denyko, is coming to Toronto from New Jersey. "She let me live off her credit card for six months to write it. You want your mum to like your movie. She'll tell me she likes it whether she does or not."

Fitzgerald is in San Francisco working on his next project, Beefcake, a docudrama about muscle magazines in the 1950s and the gay culture that thrived around them. He plans to shoot the dramatic part in Halifax in October.

A New Yorker who first came to Nova Scotia as an art student on an exchange program to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design from Cooper Union, he is committed to living and working in Nova Scotia.

"I'm really looking forward to the Atlantic Film Festival because a lot of our really great actors will see it for the first time - Joan Orenstein, Christie Dunsworth - and a lot of the crew."

The Hanging Garden is set to open in commercial cinemas in Quebec on Hallowe'en and in English Canada on Nov. 7.

It is co-produced by Toronto's Triptych Media (Zero Patience, Lilies), Montreal's Galafilm (Lilies, The Valour and the Horror) and Emotion Pictures, Halifax. It is funded by Telefilm Canada, the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation, SODEC, Foundation to Underwrite New Drama for Pay Television (FUND), Cineplex Odeon, Malofilm and Channel 4 Television.

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