Shelley Thompson’s directorial debut wouldn’t have been possible without her son.
The award-winning performer best known for her portrayal of Barbara Lahey on the hit TV series Trailer park boysbegan to turn his attention to the director’s chair at a time when his son, singer-songwriter T. Thomason, was embarking on a far more significant change in his life.
“I’m the mother of a trans man,” Thompson said. “He started his transition at a time when I was sort of starting the shift in my career from on camera to behind the camera.
“As a family, as we scour the ground to help an individual through their transition and understand the changes that this means for us and how we were feeling and coping emotionally, it seemed really important to see if we we could capture some of that history and make it available to people who might possibly experience that.”
This weekend, the City Cinema in Charlottetown will screen Thompson’s directorial debut, Dawn, her father and the tractorwhich she also wrote.
Thompson, who is based in Nova Scotia, started shooting the film with money she won from the national Women In the Director’s Chair award in 2018, which aims to encourage more feature films directed by women.
The story revolves around Dawn, a young trans woman who returns to the family farm in the Maritimes after the death of her mother, meeting her father and sister for the first time since transitioning.
“Dawn left home obviously at a time of crisis a few years ago, when she was a teenager, and was separated from her father for about five years. Her mother was kept informed… [but] she felt she had to keep her support for her child secret, private. And so obviously that puts a strain on a lot of relationships,” Thompson said.
“The relationship between Dawn and her father, which is fractured at the start, a hot glass is put on it. And also about the relationship between the two sisters in the story, because a sister is not much older than Dawn and does not can’t understand why her sister wouldn’t have contacted her to confide in her.”
Thompson said the film’s themes center around the “fractured” family relationships everyone has experienced.
Her own relationship with her son was crucial.
“My son was instrumental in telling the story, guiding me and making sure I was saying the right thing at the right time. And that’s where it came from,” she said.
“I was interested in really focusing on a family’s journey.”
Spotlight on Transgender People in Rural Communities
The film was shot in Nova Scotia in 2020. Thompson’s decision to shoot the film in a rural community was also inspired by her family’s own experiences.
“My son [grew] in a rural town. A college town, so that meant you might imagine it a bit more tolerant and sophisticated, but that’s not always the case,” she said.
“Children in rural areas in particular struggle to find safe people and places to explore their gender and sexuality, so it was important to me that this be represented.”
The film stars Maya Henry, a Toronto-based transgender actress, in the lead role. Thompson’s alum Trailer park boys Teammate Robb Wells shows a more serious side playing her father.
The film made the rounds at queer film festivals in countries including the Netherlands and the UK.
But Thompson said her themes would resonate with anyone, not just people who are part of the trans community or have trans family members.
“I hear stories every day of people saying, ‘I recognize my family,'” she said.
“It focuses on something that families can see together. It focuses on something that I hope families will walk away from and discuss. It creates opportunities for dialogue.”