ANTIGONISH: The director of a new movie that was shot in downtown Antigonish says she has become very aware firsthand the support or lack of support often times there is for young transgendered individuals particularly in a rural setting.
Dawn, Her Dad & the Tractor tells a story about a young transgender woman, reuniting with her estranged father after the death of her mother.
John Andrew MacGinnis is about to bury his wife who died of breast cancer, a young woman with a startling resemblance to his wife appears on his porch the day after her death.
John Andrew’s estranged son Donald is now Dawn, returning home to mourn her mother and to keep a promise to repair her relationship with her father.
“As they start work to rebuild an antique tractor, they also restore their relationship,” Shelley Thompson told The Reporter. “It’s actually based on a couple real-life stories, and certainly working on rebuilding a relationship with a family member is not an unusual occurrence.”
Thompson, who is the mother of a transgender individual indicated resources, information and support are scarce in rural locations such as Antigonish – and it can often be a case of life and death.
She said a child dealing with any kind of issue becomes the parent’s issue and they become activists because of their children; an issue that was very relevant for her.
“The suicide rate in young, trans people are way too high,” she said. “I want young trans people to be accepted and to be made feel safe and that’s really what prompted the telling of this story.”
Thompson indicated there is a lot of research that supports the fact those young transgender and queer people who have the support and love of their families are safer, and that the movie will spark conversations for more understanding in communities.
“Transgender people are individuals who don’t change who they are when they transition, they become more themselves,” she said. “It’s really significant and important to us that trans stories are being told in a way that will be acceptable to families because we believe the psyche and the visibility of trans individuals in our communities are really important.”
She indicated transgender individuals aren’t like most other visible minorities, because often transgender people aren’t particularly visible – but every part of society needs representation.
The production, which is actually set in Antigonish, wrapped after 18-days of shooting in total, including additional locations in Windsor, Halifax and Chester.
“I lived in Antigonish for many years, and my experiences of that community and my child’s experiences influenced us profoundly, both for the good and not so good,” Thompson said. “It was an extraordinarily warm and welcoming community in some ways and an extraordinarily difficult community for members of the LGBTQ community when we arrived, and has changed dramatically in the past 12-years for the better.”
Originally, production was planned during the Highland Games and it was going to feature a scene that included the thousands of people that would have been lined on Main Street for parade day – but due to COVID-19 and the cancellation of the games, some serious script re-writing had to occur.
Written and directed by Thompson, the film is produced by Terry Greenlaw and stars Canadian transgender YouTube phenomenon Maya Henry and Rob Wells from the Trailer Park Boys.
Wells, who is more commonly known for his character Ricky, who causes havoc around Sunnyvale Trailer Park with his pals Bubbles and Julian, has traded in his iconic rusted-out 1975 Chrysler New Yorker for an antique tractor in which is used to help repair his relationship with his daughter.
Having worked alongside Thompson on numerous projects over the years, Wells said she really surprised him as a director.
“It was actually really enjoyable to do something completely different,” Wells said. “He’s a small town dairy farmer, who’s kind of a little old-fashioned and set in his ways, it’s a nice message that if a small-town guy can change his outlook on life, than anybody can.”
Thompson advised the film couldn’t have been possible without the generosity of the people of Antigonish, including Mayor Laurie Boucher and councillor Andrew Murray of the Town of Antigonish, Meghan Peters of the Tall & Small, Colette Rennie of Chez Deslauriers and Ingrid Risk with Festival Antigonish.
She had special praise for one individual in particular, the warden of the Municipality of the County of Antigonish – Owen McCarron – highlighting a dramatic moment that typified the attitude of the people in Antigonish who supported the making of the movie.
“On our last day of filming we were on the tightest of tight schedules and our tractor broke down while we were shooting, and it was a scene that completely relied on that tractor, and a whole bunch of people came forward and were tinkering with things trying to make it go,” Thompson said. “But Owen who was being a background person playing a judge, came forward, rolled up his sleeves, and got the tractor going again.”
Dawn, Her Dad & the Tractor will start streaming on Crave next year.