Jul 17 5:00 & 7:00pm
Jul 18 7:00 & 9:00pm
Borealis is an aptly titled movie because part of the story is about the collision course happening between father and daughter. They live in their separate worlds, but when reality is hitting hard — Jonah (Jonas Chernick, Degrassi: The Next Generation) has a huge gambling debt to pay off and Aurora (Joey King, Fargo) is going blind — they need to learn how to depend on each other to get out of hard times. The elder is not going to be able to pay off his debt anytime soon, and when he says to his teenage daughter, let’s run away. is that a good thing to do? In what this film explores is a gentle mix of emotional drama, incidental comedy and a touch of gangbuster fun.
Tubby (Kevin Pollak, The Whole Ten Yards) is the loan shark trying to collect from Jonah, and Brick (Clé Bennett, The Line), his muscle, are chasing after him. When going on the lam is tough in a province where the mob is everywhere, they are not going to get far. All Jonah wants to do is to show Aurora the Northern Lights once before her blindness settles in. The wife/mother died long ago, and he wanted his little angel to appreciate the life she has instead of tossing it away. There’s a lot of thought and sentimental feelings put into this story that was originally developed as a short film. Sean Garrity created Blind which expanded to Borealis.
I got the opportunity to speak to Jonas about this film, and talk to him about how this film came together:
First off, can you please introduce yourself to readers unfamiliar with your work.
I’m primarily an actor, from TV series like The Best Laid Plans, The Border and Fargo to movies like Seven Times Lucky, How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town and Blood Pressure. In between gigs, I write, produce and act in my own films, such as 2006’s Lucid, 2012’s My Awkward Sexual Adventure and 2016’s Borealis, which opens this weekend at Cinecenta in Victoria.
How would you describe the Canadiana flavour that’s in this movie?
Borealis is uniquely Canadian in that it’s a road movie that starts in Winnipeg and ventures north to Churchill, at the edge of the Arctic Circle. Let’s face it; only a Canadian road movie would have a destination like that. Most road pictures are east/west. I think we might be the first one that heads straight north. What could be more Canadian than that?
As a screenwriter, was it difficult to expand the ideas that Sean Garrity introduced in his short film to which this longer film is based on? I assume you two worked together, since he directed both.
When I saw Sean’s short, I immediately envisioned a feature. He thought I was crazy. He didn’t see it as a long form story. But I almost instantly knew who the characters would be when I flushed them out. I knew I wanted them both to have a vice (poker for the father, pot for the daughter) and I knew that instead of learning that their vices were “bad,” they would ultimately embrace the others’ crutch and, in a way, understand it. Sean read every draft of the feature and guided me through the writing process, as he does on every film we collaborate on. We’ve got a nice thing going together.
How much of an emotional journey was it for you when creating the screenplay and playing the lead at the same time?
Oddly, I find the writing of the script and the actual acting to be two very separate experiences. Obviously, I know while I’m writing that I’ll be playing the character, but I never really connect with that idea until I take of the writer hat and put on the actor hat, usually during prep on the movie, a week or two before we roll camera. It’s a bizarre experience. I suddenly see the script with fresh actorly eyes, and it surprises, challenges and (sometimes) terrifies me. But that’s one of the things I love about being an actor-writer hyphenate.
As a producer too, how involved were you in the casting? That is, was it hard to find the right performers to accomplish the gravitas needed in pulling off the father-daughter finding each other relationship?
Sean and I collaborate on the casting — though, of course, he gets final say if there’s ever a disagreement (which there rarely, if ever, is). We knew we wanted Joey King for the role of “Aurora,” and Sean thought of Kevin Pollak for the role of “Tubby,” which was perfect, and we’d worked with him before so we knew him. We’d worked with Emily Hampshire before too, so she fit right in as “Kyla.” Same with Jake Epstein, who played “Fergus.”
Most of the other actors were Winnipeg locals whom we’d worked with over the years. We sort of have a company of actors we like to use again and again, while always making some new discoveries along the way. This time, it was Greg Bryk as “Hunter” and Clé Bennett as “Brick,” whom we’d both been big fans of, but had never had the chance to work with. I hope we get to work with Greg and Clé again and that they become part of our little family.
What was it like working with Joey King?
Joey is a revelation. She’s used to working on gigantic movies like White House Down, The Dark Knight Rises and Independence Day: Resurgence. It was cool for her to come up to Canada and be the number one lead. The movie really belongs to Joey — it’s Aurora’s story. And she knocked it out of the park. This is an actor who can’t hit a false note if she tried. She was incredibly prepared, especially when it came to the character’s increasing blindness over the course of the movie. She took that element very seriously, and assured authenticity, working with an optometrist, rehearsing each scene with special “blindness glasses” on, so she would know how it felt.
But mostly, Joey’s just fun. She loves acting, and she’s always laughing and making the crew laugh. She’s grown up on movie sets, and that’s where she’s most at home. We bonded pretty quickly — her first day of rehearsal was me teaching her how to roll joints and smoke them. Don’t worry, we used the fake stuff.
I get the feeling there’s more to Brick than just a bodyguard. What can you say about this supporting character?
I was very interested in the relationship between Brick and Tubby, our “bad guys.” We really dug into Brick’s back story, his feelings of obligation towards Tubby and his job, and his commitment to professionalism which, it turned out, was not far off from the way Clé Bennett approaches his work as an actor.
I read the interview on The Georgia Straight where comedian/actor Kevin Pollak said he enjoys improvising. How much of that was done in his part as Tubby, the debt collector?
Kevin is a brilliant improviser. But even more impressive is his understanding of the story. He’s a fine writer in his own right, whether it’s writing jokes for his stand-up, his hilarious memoir, or telling stories to the crew during breaks, or writing his own screenplays. So the best bits from Kevin didn’t necessarily come in the moment, but, rather, the day before we shot a scene, when he’d come to me with ideas for how to tweak the dialogue to better tell the story. He didn’t change much, but when he did have a change, it was always great.
For a film that’s now on VOD and getting special art house screenings, where else do you hope to see this product go?
We’re looking forward to our US release coming up later in 2016, so I’m excited to see how American audiences respond. We’ve had some great festival screenings in the past few months; Opening Night Film at the Brooklyn Film Festival, and at the Shanghai International Film Festival, where the audiences really responded to the movie (and, subsequently, led to a sale of the movie to a distributor in China!).
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, and if you have anything in closing to say to our readers, please do.
I hope Victorians will head out to Cinecenta on Sunday and Monday to see it on the big screen, where it really plays best. Watching on your laptop, or your TV at home is fine… but this is a big movie, showing off the vistas of Northern Manitoba, shot with huge anamorphic lenses, and great music. It was meant to be seen in the cinema!