by Jordan Parker
Special to Wreckhouse Weekly
A consultant on the transgender coming-of-age film Dawn, Her Dad & The Tractor has seen the film come full circle. Savannah Burton – now a Toronto resident – is from just outside Corner Brook, NL., and now the film she gave guidance on is part of the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival.
“It’s something I’m so proud to be a part of. It’s a dynamic film, and it brings something brand new to the Canadian film landscape. It’s groundbreaking, and I’m excited it’s getting notice at festivals,” said Burton.
Burton was introduced to director Shelley Thompson through a random coincidence, but is so happy it happened.
“My friend Dennis, who I play dodgeball with, was talking to Shelley. She spoke about a feature film she wanted to do centered on a trans woman, and we got introduced via email. We met for a coffee in Toronto in 2016,” she said.
“I had looked her up and saw she had done amazing things. I saw she was in Trailer Park Boys and learned later she had been in Labyrinth, which was super cool.”
At that time, Thompson’s now-lauded film about Dawn, a young transgender woman who returns home to her family for the first time since her transition, was but a seedling.
“She spoke to me about having a transgender son, and she wanted to create this story about a trans woman. She wanted my feedback and personal perspective. She wanted to know what it entailed and to be educated on that aspect of being trans,” she said.
“We had an hour-long chat that first time, and she would send me scripts. I’d give my ideas and feedback, and it went on like that for a while. It was a great way to educate. We would discuss things that may be problematic, as well as what was working. It was something I’m proud of, and something I really enjoyed.”
For Burton, the fact that Dawn, Her Dad & The Tractor was set to tell a story about a trans woman that was positive was a huge thing. She remembers seeing the feature documentary Disclosure on Netflix, and realized the negative biases the media has pushed about the trans community for decades.
“There were so few stories about trans women that were positive. There were so many negative perspectives and representations over the decades, and that hardened a lot of opinions on transgender people,” she said.
“Shelley wanted to talk about this story, and write a coming-of-age tale about a young trans woman. It was a great opportunity to put something out that was authentic and relevant, and dispel some of the toxic nonsense that had come out in the past. Being able to change some of that stigma was exciting.”
Burton – who spent most of her teenage and high school years in Corner Brook – left in her early 20s for Toronto.
“It was just a personal thing. I had lived there with my mom and brother for a year when I was a teen. I knew the big city and I fell in love with it. It was more about wanting to move there to transition,” she said. “In the late 1990’s, there wasn’t a huge community, and it was challenging. But I also have some really good memories.”
The actress has been a member of ACTRA since 2006, and has represented her country in dodgeball, a sport she excels at and loves. As she moves toward a new direction in her life, being able to do this work on Dawn was rewarding.
“This has really come full circle. To see this wonderful, educational film play at the SJIWFF is incredible. It’s been an emotional journey, and you don’t need to be a part of the LGBTQ2S+ community to care about this movie,” she said.
“I hope a lot of people see it. It’s a great film with great performances. I’m so honoured to have been a part of it, and I’ll always be happy I was a part of this project.”