The move Dawn, Her Dad and the Tractor tells a tale of a transgender woman finding acceptance in her rural hometown.

ANTIGONISH: The director of a movie that was shot in Antigonish in the summer of 2020 says one little difference in an individual shouldn’t change the way they are treated, and they should be accepted, respected, and loved.

The movie, Dawn, Her Dad and the Tractor, which tells a tale of a transgender woman finding acceptance in her rural hometown, premiered in Antigonish two nights earlier this month.

When a young woman with a startling resemblance to John Andrew MacGinnis’ wife Miranda appears days before her funeral, John Andrew must begin an odyssey towards understanding. His son Donald is now Dawn, home to mourn her mother and repair the estrangement with her dad.

The film was showcased by Theatre Antigonish at StFX with the March 11 premiere selling out, while the March 12 premiere was near maximum capacity as well.

“We are thrilled to be able to play a role in the presentation of this lovely, warm film about family and community. The film’s message about acceptance and love is such an important one for all of us,” Andrea Boyd told The Reporter. “Shelley’s family has deep connections with our theatre, and with the local community. Parts of the movie were filmed right here in Antigonish, and includes local talent, making this screening even more special.”

Director Shelley Thompson, who is recognized from her 13-season run acting in Trailer Park Boys as “Barb Lahey,” said ultimately the film is about the need for acceptance, both within the immediate family and within the wider community.

Many threads of Thompson’s personal life made it into her debut feature film; she personally heard the story of a man and his son bonding over an old tractor as the man died of cancer, there were elements of her mother’s story who grew up on a farm in Alberta, and she drew from her son, singer-songwriter T. Thomason and his personal journey as a transgender individual.

“The story I heard of the father and son, the fact my mother grew up on a farm and learned how to drive on a tractor and what that meant to her and my experience with my son,” she told The Reporter. “You weave all those bits together and come up with something not true, but not false.”

As Dawn, who is played by Toronto-based trans actress Maya V. Henry, restores an old family tractor, her dad, played by Robb Wells, who is numb with grief over his wife’s sudden death and is uncomfortable with his child’s transition, must learn to support his daughter and renounce his small town’s transphobia.

The film’s cast also includes Amy Groening, Reid Price, Richie Wilcox, and Taylor Olson and was shot in various locations in Nova Scotia, including Windsor, Chester, Halifax, and Antigonish.

While the film has recently been touring the country in select Cineplex’s, indie cinemas and independent art centres, it got its world premiere at Toronto’s Inside Out in May 2021, which is a festival that specializes in LGBTQ-related cinema.

“The small, independent cinemas in small towns have been going really well, they’ve sold really well and the response has just been fantastic,” Thompson said. “It was huge to premiere it in Antigonish, the community was so involved in the creation, a lot of those people were background people, all the businesses helped us, the Tall N Small were amazing, it was super important, they were the heart of the movie, in a certain way.”

Photos by Dan Callis
Dawn, Her Dad and the Tractor was showcased by Theatre Antigonish at StFX with the March 11 premiere selling out, while the March 12 premiere was near maximum capacity.

It has since screened at the Halifax International Film Festival, the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival and the Whistler Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Borsos Award for Best Canadian Feature.

Dawn, Her Dad and the Tractor is scheduled to make its international debut at the BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Festival and Rose Filmdagen Film Festival in Amsterdam later this month, two of the biggest queer cinema festivals in Europe.

“I think it’s really important,” Thompson said on being programmed at LGBTQ+ festivals. “But it’s also important for me to get it recognized in the mainstream, because the people who need to hear this are people who are not exposed to or don’t know queer or trans people, and kind of just need to get with the program and realize we’re all in this together and they are all part of our community.”

Thompson said it’s extremely important for the individuals in the trans and the queer communities to feel their stories are valid, important, and that people are interested in them.

“If people don’t ever get to see themselves on screen and in the popular culture and reflected in the way we all see our world reflected, you feel invisible,” Thompson said. “You feel like you have no value or no place in this society and that’s not right.”

Fielding a question from a non-binary individual who was present in the gallery on March 12, Thompson was asked what she wanted to tell parents who are new to this journey, whose kids may have come out recently, and are trying to find themselves.

“I think the main thing I want to say to parents, and I’m sure most parents would agree with me, all we want is for our kids to be safe and happy. That’s it; pretty simple,” Thompson said. “My main point to parents, is that your child health and mental health depends on your love and your ability to listen; and that’s what you have to do.”

Thompson indicated she wouldn’t change the journey she’s been on with her son for the world.

“I have learned more and I’ve been blessed by being allowed to understand things I never thought I’d be allowed to understand,” Thompson said. “It’s given me a different perspective on the world, it’s given me a sense of humanity in a way I can hardly express.”

For parents, Thompson said they can feel grief because they’re losing pre-conditioned expectations of what they think that person should be.

Speaking on it being a small budget film with big budget expectations, Thompson said she didn’t have millions of dollars to throw at the movie on marketing.

“Our movie is growing by word-of-mouth, by passionate journalists, by passionate individuals, so I’m really proud,” Thompson said. “In B.C., we started out in two tiny little cinemas, it grew to several more, and we’re still getting emails daily from festivals around the world saying they heard about the film and wanted to take a look at it for their festival.”

Thompson said it was odd to have film festivals requesting to take a look at the film to see about programming it for their own festival, but it’s also something she couldn’t be happier about.

As for what the main focal point for the film is, Thompson provided a thought-provoking answer.

“It’s an interesting thing, we look at Spiderman, and nobody says “What lesson should we be taking away?”” she said. “I want people to go into the cinema and be engrossed in a family story and I want them to recognize the characters and go “Oh god that happened in my family,” in terms of the difficulties and recognizing the pain when you lose somebody, there’s so many universal things.”

Thompson also wants people to recognize the humanity of everyone, and took at what binds everyone together.

At the end of the month, Dawn, Her Dad and the Tractor moves to the streaming service CRAVE and Thompson said they’ll continue to play at festivals as they remain on the search to find international distribution so they can get it into theatres and streaming services around the world.

Dawn, Her Dad and the Tractor was shot in Antigonish in the summer of 2020.