‘I think beginnings and endings are the hardest, for me, as a storyteller,” Jonas Chernick says. “Really, endings, they keep me up at night.”
But in that regard, Chernick got a lucky break with Borealis, the film he’s written and stars in: he had its final moments locked in from the get-go. His frequent collaborator Sean Garrity had released a short film called Blind, which featured what Chernick felt was a perfect ending. Garrity didn’t have any plans to expand the short, but he gave Chernick permission to take a crack at it. So, ending in place, he started working backwards.
“I knew where I wanted these characters to end their journey, but I didn’t know what the journey was going to be, or who they were, or how they would change,” Chernick says. “And so I got to do something I’ve never done before as a writer, which was reverse-engineer an entire story and characters based on an ending I loved.”
Which led him to Jonah and Aurora, the duo at the heart of Borealis. Jonah (Chernick) is a self-destructive gambling addict whose debts have risen to the point of hopelessness. Aurora (Joey King) is his pot-addled teenage daughter, whose vision is rapidly fading to blindness. Under the guise of wanting her to see the northern lights—but more immediately, for him to skip town to avoid debt—they end up on the road together, headed to Churchill, MB. (For both of Metro Cinema’s Borealis screenings, either Chernick or Garrity will do a live Skype Q&A afterwards.)
“It was actually the fastest I’ve ever written a script,” Chernick admits. And since its release, it’s hardly slowed down: after touring the Canadian film fest rounds—including as part of Edmonton International Film Festival’s 2015 edition—Borealis has gone on to play as the opening-night film at the Brooklyn Film Fest. Chernick notes that, as this interview’s happening, Garrity’s on a plane to China for the film’s screening at the Shanghai International Film Festival.
If only finding those perfect endings to start with came so easily every time.
“I’ve read every book ever written about screenwriting, and seen all the great movies: that perfect ending is so hard to find,” Chernick says. “It’s so elusive. It’s this idea [that] you want an ending that satisfies the audience’s expectations, but in a way that surprises them. It’s almost a paradox, but I understand that when it’s achieved, it leaves you with something greater than the average movie-going experience.”
Sat, Jun 18 (7 pm); Tue, Jun 21 (7 pm)
Directed by Sean Garrity
Metro Cinema at the Garneau