Jonas Chernick BorealisBy BERNIE BELLAN
Former Winnipegger Jonas Chernick’s latest film, “Borealis”, which was shot entirely in Manitoba, is set to receive its Winnipeg premiere on Friday, April 15. Recently I chatted with Chernick, who was in his Toronto home, about the film and his career.

JP&N: When was this film actually made?
Chernick: We shot the film in October of 2014.

JP&N: It was shot entirely in Manitoba, was it?
Chernick: One hundred per cent.

JP&N: You can tell – I really got a kick out of the South Beach casino being on the way from Dauphin to Flin Flon.
Chernick: (Laughs) Well, we changed the name. Technically it’s another casino.
There is a casino up there. We just couldn’t get up there to shoot. It’s not as glamorous. But there is a casino on the reservation there. The South Beach casino is filling in for it.

JP&N: Before I forget, “the rabbi” in the opening scene. I’m sure there was a character in the Guy Ritchie film, “Lock, Stock and Smoking Barrels” that had a character named “the rabbi”. Was it entirely coincidental that you had a character with the same name?
Chernick: I would never steal something intentionally – especially from a Guy Ritchie film. You know, those things have a way of fitting into your subconscious. I may have accidentally stolen it.

JP&N: Talking about the character though, is the rabbi the bankroller for the Kevin Pollack character (Tubby) in the film?
Chernick: I’m creating this sort of fictional, but based on actual events, kind of world. When my father played cards when I was a kid, he was involved with this community of Jewish professionals – family men…lawyers, doctors, dentists, restaurateurs – and they had a weekly poker game.
To me, as a kid, peeking into that world was exciting and I created this whole mystery about how dangerous it was. I remember he’d tell stories about guys – there was Bugsy or Meyer or Bernie – like you. There was this cast of characters in my head that I imagined my dad was playing cards with.
In fact, I think they were sitting in the back room of the Marigold or one of the Chinese restaurants downtown and eating Chinese food or at a deli and eating corned beef sandwiches and playing poker. I created this sort of world in my head and that’s what I was trying to create in the movie.
The idea of a character named “the rabbi” – I liked the idea of a Jewish character with that name.

JP&N: But wasn’t there in the opening scene a rabbi or an Orthodox Jew sitting at the poker table?
Chernick: Good catch – you’re the first person to notice that. There is an Orthodox Jew playing at the table, but he’s not the rabbi.
A bit of trivia: the actor who was playing that Chassidic Jew at the poker table is a Winnipeg actor by the name of Harry Nelken.

JP&N: Harry Nelken? He was just in a pretty good show put on by the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre called “Shiksa”.
Chernick: Harry played my father in a Winnipeg Jewish Theatre production of “The Chosen” many years ago and he, in fact, played a rabbi in that play.

JP&N: I couldn’t tell who else in the film was a Winnipeg actor. Did you use a lot of locals?
Chernick: Yes, almost entirely. The only actors who weren’t local actors were the girl who played my daughter (Joey King) and Kevin Pollack, of course, who’s from Los Angeles, and a couple of others. The rest were locals.

JP&N: Was your wife in the movie played by Emily Hampshire? She was in “My Awkward Sexual Adventure”, wasn’t she?
Chernick: Yes, I’ve used her before – I’ve used her in my films many times. She’s terrific.

JP&N: How old is Joey King in real life?
Chernick: Joey King turned 15 just before we started shooting.

JP&N: You’re kidding! I thought she was one of these 22-year-olds who can play someone much younger. So, she was really playing her age then?
Chernick: She was playing her age and she’s a real star.

JP&N: I can see that from her other film and TV credits. She’s been in so many productions already – and she’s so young. With all the awards she’s won for her role in this movie – I don’t know whether you can say that she steals the picture, but she certainly shines in it.
Chernick: I think she steals the picture.

JP&N:Well, you know what, you’ve got that trademark hang-dog expression now. I don’t know whether you’ve ever been told that.
Chernick: I’m creating that for myself. I keep creating these same characters for me to play – and they’re all of that type.

JP&N:Yes, you are the classic “shlemiel”. You know the difference between a “shlemazel” and a shlemiel”, don’t you?
Chernick: I don’t remember.

JP&N: A shlemiel is someone who spills the chicken soup and the shlemazel is the one who has the chicken soup spilled on him.
Chernick: Ha ha ha – that’s great.

JP&N: Who came up with the ending by the way? Was it you or Sean Garrity (Chernick’s collaborator on this movie as well as “My Awkward Sexual Adventure”)?
Chernick: Sean had come up with the idea for this movie and it was about a three-sentence idea that he pitched me…and he included the ending.
I burst into tears when I heard the idea for the ending. Then he made a short film based on the idea he had and I asked him whether I could turn it into a feature length film. The feature is very different from the short film but the ending remains the same.

(At this point I asked Chernick some questions about the ending of the movie, but I don’t want to give away the ending here. Suffice to say that I wondered how credible the ending of the movie was.)
Chernick: I can’t say it’s autobiographical but it is based on an actual experience.
What happens in the movie isn’t a surprise to the character I play – even though it may seem like that. But, if you watch the movie again, you’ll see that he lies to try and protect his daughter.

JP&N: The story was terrific and I think anyone here will get a kick out of seeing how you use Manitoba settings entirely, but the relationship between the father and the daughter is really beautiful. It’s a road movie. The genesis of the plot – did you see it as a road movie all along?
Chernick: I never thought of it as a road movie even though I knew from the very beginning it was going to be a journey from Winnipeg to Churchill. It’s funny – you don’t think of that as a road movie. Road movies are almost always from east to west or vice versa. We think that it’s the first south-north road movie…certainly in Canada.
I never thought of it as a road movie, but it absolutely is, and there’s no greater journey for two characters to take, to come together and figure each other out – and to come clean with one another while being on the road.

JP&N: Yah - I was almost crying at the end. I find that the only things that bring me to tears are movies – and my own kids.
So, how many movies have you been involved with now? You must be about 43 or 44, right?
Chernick: I’m 42, but I look older in this movie. This is the third movie that I’ve written, produced, and starred in. There were a couple of others that I’ve collaborated in, and there were dozens of others that I’ve acted in. (Also TV series, Chernick adds.)

JP&N: Have you been in other movies since “My Awkward Sexual Adventure”?
Chernick: This is the first one that I’ve written, produced, and starred in since “My Awkward Sexual Adventure”, but I’ve been in other films. I was in a movie called “Blood Pressure”, also by Sean Garrity, I shot another sex comedy called “How to Plan a Sex Orgy in a Small Town”, which is opening in May across the country.

JP&N: And in Lithuania, I presume (in reference to “My Awkward Sexual Adventure” having the third-highest opening box office of any film ever shown in Lithuania, of all places).
Chernick: We’ll have to wait and see. Other than that, it’s been a lot of TV work.

JP&N: So, has it been steady since “Sexual Adventure”? After all, you called me within five seconds of my sending you an e-mail asking you to call me tonight.
Chernick: No, as a matter of fact I’m studying a script right now. I’m being picked up to shoot a TV series in the morning. It’s been good. The last year has really been about finishing “Borealis” and promoting it. I’ve been to a handful of Canadian film festivals to promote the film. I haven’t done so much acting the past year, but now I’m back, also actively putting together the next film.

JP&N:Did you know that your film is opening here four days before our provincial election?
Chernick: No, I didn’t know that.

JP&N: And you did receive considerable funding from the Manitoba government for this movie. Perhaps if you get some stellar returns at the box office here, you could parlay that into some good publicity for Greg Selinger.
Chernick: Let’s hope so.

JP&N: You also had Buffalo Gals involved in this film. It’s truly a Manitoba film. The only other Manitoba films that I can say I’ve seen are some Guy Maddin films, but I can’t say that I’m a Guy Maddin fan. His stuff is just too weird for me.
Chernick: But, there have some successful TV series shot here. “Maximillian Glick” is one.
“Less than Kind”.

JP&N: “Less than Kind” – right. That’s a cult favourite, isn’t it? I’ve never watched it, but I’ve heard it’s good.
But this one (“Borealis”) really seems to raise the bar, I’d say.
When it comes to bankrolling a film like this, how difficult is it to do?
Chernick: It’s incredibly difficult to do. It’s incredibly difficult any time a film gets financed. It’s a complicated web, it’s like a series of miracles that have to happen to get a film made.

JP&N: That was your role too, I imagine.
Chernick: I was very involved with that. As a producer, and as the person who’s more motivated than anyone to get this film made, because I wrote it and because I play the main character – I’m the person who’s most inspired to do it.
It’s tense, but it’s also like a complex puzzle – and I’m also a puzzle solver.

JP&N: I suppose your experience with “My Awkward Sexual Adventure” must have helped you though. That one has made money, hasn’t it?
Chernick: It’s done very well. It exceeded all of our expectations and it kind of gave me – I wouldn’t say a “free pass”, but it did give me the opportunity to make a more challenging film. I think if I had tried to make this particular father-daughter, road trip movie, without the success of “My Awkward Sexual Adventure” prior, it would have been far more difficult.

JP&N: Are you working on another script right now?
Chernick: Yes, I literally have five projects in development. Two of them I’m trying to produce this year, a third possibly this year, maybe next year, and a couple of others within the next two years.

JP&N: If someone, say in Winnipeg, maybe a friend or a relative were to say to you: “Jonas, let me in on your next movie”, how would that work?
Chernick: You mean as investors?

JP&N: Yah.
(Chernick laughs heartily)

JP&N: Well, haven’t people approached you after “Sexual Adventure”?
Chernick: No, all I do is knock on doors and beg people to invest. There’s no one calling on you asking if they can invest. It’s very, very difficult to find investors, so if you want to put that in the paper, you can say that anyone who’s interested in being an executive producer of a Canadian feature film can contact me.

JP&N: And you’ll promise them a lead role in the film too?
Chernick: Well, we’ll talk. I’m open to anything.

JP&N: So the film premieres in Winnipeg April 15 and you open in Toronto April 8.
Is it opening in a big theatre in Toronto the way it will be in Winnipeg (at the Landmark Empire Theatre in the Grant Park Shopping Centre)?
Chernick: No, the Toronto theatres that we’re playing in are not Landmark. This movie is not a multiplex kind of popcorn film in the popular sense. We can’t compete with the superhero films. We’re doing a very specific, kind of art house, small theatre, city-by-city release, where we can be very involved and very heads on…We’re playing the indie theatres.
It all comes down to the first weekend. If people come to see it on the first weekend we’ll have a chance to create some buzz. If people can find it on that opening weekend, then I think we’re in good shape because audiences have been loving it at the festivals. The feedback has been incredible – even more positive than “My Awkward Sexual Adventure”.

JP&N: I’ve seen the considerable number of awards that you’ve already one, especially the accolades for Joey King. Does it make a difference to movie-goers in Canada that it’s a Canadian film?
Chernick: I don’t think so. A good story is a good story and I don’t think that the average movie-goer knows going in that they’re watching a Canadian movie. Certainly when they sit down and watch this movie they’ll immediately know that it’s set in Canada because Manitoba is a character in the movie.

JP&N: Manitoba is a character but you didn’t resort to using any stereotypical Mounties for instance.
Chernick: No, we tried to be authentic. We didn’t use any moose. It’s a different kind of Manitoba that people are used to seeing.

JP&N: Any final words? I’m going to have to translate this into a two-page interview.
(Chernick laughs)  I just want to say that I would encourage Winnipeggers – especially Winnipeggers in my Jewish community that I was so much a part of for so many years to come out opening night.

JP&N: By the way, you are going to be here for the premiere, aren’t you?
Chernick: That’s right.

JP&N: So, are you going to introduce the film the very first showing?
Chernick: I’m going to introduce the film on Friday night, April 15 – both screenings. I’m going to do a Q and A after the film – both screenings, and it would be great to see people that I haven’t seen for a long time…family, friends, people in the community that I worked with when I worked at the Rady JCC, BBYO, Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, or Camp Massad – all these organizations that were a part of my life for so many years. It would be great to see those people.

JP&N: I’m sure you’ll do well. Based on my own experience, it was a terrific film.
This interview will go into our March 30 issue. I’ll put a review into either the March 30 issue or the April 13th one. That’s how I rolled it out for “My Awkward Sexual Adventure”. I think it worked well.
Chernick: Are you kidding? It was incredibly helpful. Why do you think I called you before I called any of the Winnipeg press?