Director, scriptwriter, producer, actor. Atlantic Canada’s great gay hope, New York-bred, NSCAD-trained Fitzgerald is one of the most prolific, distinctive and unpredictable filmmakers of his generation.
Fitzgerald was catapulted to international attention with the multi-prizewinning The Hanging Garden (Halifax, 1997, 91), the prodigy masterpiece of a scarred and fat queer boy coming of age in a dysfunctional family. The diverse narrative elements–coming of age, return of the native, law of the father, compulsory heterosexuality, sibling complicity, homosocial triangle, the bush garden (seashore mode), the wedding explosion, and even the reconstitution of the (queer) family–all come together in a richly symbolic web that moves as much as it challenges. A superb script, mise-en-scene, cast and performances, plus a walk-on fiddle performance by Ashley MacIsaac and a tender, daring teenage sex scene shattered by a shrieking grandmother in the attic: what more could anyone want? This postmodern collage of flowers, bodies, families and regional place is one of the great features of the nineties.
Fitzgerald never looked back or repeated himself thereafter. Trapped in the “second film syndrome,” Fitzgerald’s underrated second feature Beefcake (1999), a hybrid recreation of the pre-Stonewall golden era of physique eroticism, met with bewildered and lukewarm critical response despite its lurid canvas of jiving musclestuds and Daniel MacIvor’s sterling performance as the conflicted beefcake impresario. Next came a bread-and-butter US TV genre assignment Blood Moon (2001) about a freakshow teen wolfgirl, whose Rumanian location inspired the next more personal feature Wild Dogs (2002). This strange melodrama of not-so-innocent Canadians abroad in Bucharest, fucking—and fucking up—each other and the locals, is notable for a vivid sense of space and charismatic non-professional performances by Roma beggars Fitgerald had “discovered.” Self-professedly “fucked up” on the Kinsey identity scale (Hays 1998), Fitzgerald’s own nuanced performance as a chubby pansexual blackmailer recalls a similar scene of bad sex in Garden, seemingly light years earlier. But this one doesn’t lead to an exhilarating reconstitution of the family—unless the Fitzgerald character’s final reunion with his Rumanian orphan puppy counts.
Fitzgerald’s 2003 feature, The Event (2003), maintains the melo mode, a meandering AIDS “assisted suicide” drama set in post-9/11 Manhattan. The film was greeted by the now predictable critical dismay despite some kickass drag queen moments and moving performances by Canadian perennials Brent Carver, Sarah Polley, and Don McKellar that stand apart from the US leads.
Fitzgerald's whole trajectory can no doubt be traced back to his training at NSCAD. In fact his first feature, now quietly dropped from the filmographies, was his 1990 student production Movie Of The Week (co-director Andrew/Dreux Ellis), a zero-budget tale of a young gay man’s coming of age, self-reflexively straddling the line between performance art, video forms and narrative cinema.