Thom Fitzgerald's divine intervention

Fitzgerald's Forgive Me television series gets real ecclesiastical September 4

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Director Thom Fitzgerald has spent the past 16 years of his career bringing intimate character pieces to life on the silver screen, from his acclaimed debut The Hanging Garden to his most recent award winner, Cloudburst, a lesbian road movie popular enough to get a nod from Bill Maher on Real Time.

But for much of 2013 he's had his mind on the small screen, with a television series (Forgive Me) premiering on Super Channel September 4, followed by a miniseries (Sex & Violence) debuting on OUTtv in November. "We're suddenly entering the age of indie television," Fitzgerald says, noting that audiences nowadays rarely catch independent film at the cinema. "I love movies, but most nights the array of entertainment on my 400 channels is way more exciting to me."

Seeking an "auteur voice," Super Channel approached Fitzgerald with the idea of a series, and what they got was Forgive Me, a twelve-episode drama set in and around a Catholic confessional, about people who've managed to "maintain their religiosity in an era when that's hard to do in the fact of the news—abuse scandals, reproductive technology, sexual revolution, gay civil rights."

The show features a young priest (Mike McLeod) preparing to inherit the responsibilities of three older priests (John Dunsworth, Jeremy Akerman and Rob Joseph Leonard) nearing retirement. Cloudburst's romantic leads, Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker, play the priest's grandmother and a bitter anti-Catholic, respectively.

"Each episode focuses on one congregant conveying dark sins inside the confessional booth," Fitzgerald explains. "It's an incredibly intimate, honest space—like (BBC series) Talking Heads or (Italian series) BeTipul." The priest is surrounded by mysterious characters like his unscrupulous brother (Craig Layton), a congregant plagued by violent thoughts (Hugh Thompson) and a woman returning to the church after a 50-year absence played by quadruple Oscar nominee Jane Alexander. "But he's got a secret of his own that could end his career, and his nightmares start to impede on his waking life," Fitzgerald says, divulging that he shares a character trait with his show's protagonist: "I've never had a good night's sleep in my life—I can be awake and dream—so that's where a show about a priest and his penitents comes from."

Restlessness, but also the lingering influence of growing up Catholic. "If you're raised in a religion, there is a cultural aspect that is part of you forever, in the way that your brain is formed," Fitzgerald says. "My favourite part of being Catholic is that I instinctively believe in magic, other realms of existence, spirits, being watched over, judged. I have a moral compass instilled by my Sunday school teachers and a wonderfully developed sense of shame and guilt."

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