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Reviews of theatre and art in Nova Scotia and beyond

Juanita Peters directs her first feature film, 8:37 REBIRTH, premiering Friday at FIN film fest

8:37 REBIRTH with Kylar Johnson as Young Jared and Callum Dunphy as the cop. The film, co-written and produced by Joseph LeClair and Hank White (Charlie Zone) and directed by Juanita Peters, premieres Friday and is online now at FIN Atlantic International Film Festival. (Steve Wilsack)

As a teen in Weymouth Juanita Peters piled into a car with her cousins to see the movies in nearby Digby.

This Friday night those same cousins will watch the world premiere of Peters’ first feature film as director, 8:37 REBIRTH, at FIN Atlantic International Film Festival in person at 9:30 p.m., at Cineplex Cinemas Park Lane, or online to Sept. 23.

8:37 REBIRTH, shot in Halifax with a Nova Scotia crew and cast, is an intense drama about three men caught up as youth in a tragic, violent event that has reverberated throughout their lives.

The script by co-producers Joseph LeClair and Hank White (Charlie Zone) hooked Peters (Hannah’s Story, Studio Black).

“I have been friends with them and a big fan of Hank and Joe’s work for a very long time. They approached me five years ago and I was thrilled.

“My whole life I was always interested in film, thinking of it as story, the stories that were impactful, the stories that were so imaginative,” says Peters, a writer, producer, director and actor in stage, film and TV.

8:37 REBIRTH is an emotionally deep, suspenseful tale with vivid characters, a mystery, a growing sense of doom and a startling end. It stars Glen Gould (Cold Pursuit and Charlie Zone), originally of Membertou and coming to Friday’s screening, as Jared, a shy Mi’kmaq artist just released from prison. Pasha Ebrahimi (Sex & Violence) is Sergei, a math genius with a loving family but a troubled mind and Mark A. Owen (Call Me Fitz) is a rough and tumble detective who knows more about what happened one fateful night than he lets on.

The movie also stars Daniel Lillford as a gruff, rooming house manager who befriends Jared, Mauralea Austin as the art teacher, Amy Trefry as Sergei’s wife, Callum Dunphy as the teen Jared and MJ Miller as the detective’s estranged wife.

The catalyst for this story came from an incident in Hank White’s childhood in central Halifax.

“Three youth from my school decided to rob a store and one of them brought a gun…. Then our imagination took over. Joe likes dark and I love comedy which makes for a great duo,” says White.

“It’s such a human story,” says Peters. “We’ve got characters that are so strong and so real. I feel the various situations happening – I’ve known people in these particular spots.

“It’s one moment of violence that changes the entire lives of these people. They were somebody on their way to something else before this happened and that’s what I loved about this story.”

Peters “rejigged” the script to “create the balance of tension and normal life,” she says. “We want the audience to feel everything is ok for while.

“I want people to really feel the predicaments all the characters are in. They are all human situations and nobody is protected from the unexpected happening and making the wrong choice.”

One of her favourite scenes is a hopeful one. “I especially like the scene between Glen and Daniel Lillford when Glen closes the door on the art collector and Daniel says, ‘I’m gonna have a famous friend.’

“All of a sudden you see these two characters who are trying to not be seen and now it’s like they’ve blossomed like flowers and there’s this amazing hope and light in their lives. The way they play that is quite special.”

“The cast is superb and they were just really open to feeling their scenes in a number of different ways. That made my job so easy.”

Director Juanita Peters, actor Glen Gould and co-producer/co-writer Hank White. (Steve Wilsack)

Peters also loved working with the creative team including cinematographer Jeff Wheaton (Murmur), with whom she built the film’s uneasy mood. “Jeff is amazing. He had so many wonderful artistic ideas.

“When Thom Fitzgerald came on as executive producer it was a no-brainer. I felt I could jump out of the plane and all these people would catch me.”

Peters has always loved going to the movies ever since she was a kid living with her mother and grandparents in Toronto.

“I didn’t see a lot of me in the theatre so when something did come out my grandfather and grandmother got us all dressed up and rushed us to it. The first film I saw with Black people was Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with Sidney Poitier. I was under 10.”

When she moved to Weymouth, a village without a cinema, she and her cousins enlisted an uncle and paid him $5 to drive them to a Digby movie theatre. “I saved all my money for movies and clothing. By this time I was 15 and it was a toss up.”

8.37 REBIRTH went into production late January/February of 2020. “We were just starting to get news of COVID-19 in Canada,” says Peters. “As we moved closer and closer to go to camera I could hear the crew talking. One group was really nervous. The other felt we’d got things taken care of.

“We decided to shut it down. We also have two children in the production. Thank goodness we did. The whole province shut down two to three days later.”

As producer, Hank White worked hard to reschedule and find money to cover what had already been spent in preproduction.

Stepping up to help were Telefilm and the Indigenous Screen Office, which funded six Indigenous people to work on the movie. Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq artist Alan Syliboy gave permission for his signature images, derived from Mi’kmaw petroglyphs and stories, to be the basis of Jared’s artwork.

Peters remembers the thrill of watching the rushes. “It’s just amazing what you can create with the right crew and cast. It’s magical.

“If you had asked me 9/10 years ago I probably would have said I like writing more than directing. I also worked on Diggstown this year. I really I love it, love, it love it. I can’t wait to get back to it.”

Peters has a fulltime job as general manager of the Africville Museum “and that’s super busy and again it’s story,” she says. “None of these things is separate. They are all story and different ways of telling story and getting that story into new ears.”

8:37. REBIRTH was produced by Rebirth Films Inc., with Thom Fitzgerald and Doug Pettigrew as executive producers and Marty Williams as a producer. It was also funded in partnership with The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, the Nova Scotia Film Incentive Fund and Stone Cold Productions Inc. It has won three Pinnacle Film Awards, an online bi-monthly international awards platform, including awards for Glen Gould and Peters as well as best feature.

FIN Atlantic International Film Festival and FIN Stream take place today to Sept. 23 and feature 158 films, 87 in-cinema screenings and 28 online screenings. Go to finfestival.ca for information, film listings and tickets.

Pasha Ebrahimi as Sergei in 8:37 REBIRTH. (Steve Wilsack)

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