The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business - Winnipeg Actor Jonas Chernick Shines in Two Wildly Different Films at This Year's Whistler Film Festival
By Brendon Barrett
Whistler Question— November 22, 2012
Jonas Chernick might be the hardest-working man in the Canadian film industry.
Having acted in what seems like every Canadian TV series under the sun since the late 90's (including, but not limited to: The Border, Degrassi, Living in Your Car, and Little Mosque), Chernick refuses to rest with not one, but two of his films appearing at this year's Whistler Film Festival (WFF).
To go along with his seemingly effortless acting abilities, Chernick will show off his skills as a writer and producer at the fest for the hilarious My Awkward Sexual Adventure and as a story editor for the fast-paced thriller Blood Pressure.
Chernick built the foundation for one of Canadian film and TV's more recent success stories in the frigid confines of Winnipeg, where he attended the University of Manitoba to study film and theatre. There, he founded a theatre troupe with his friends, whose performances at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival eventually caught the eye of a local casting director. Soon after, Chernick was given his first TV role on the children's series The Adventures of Shirley Holmes.
"That kind of spiralled and next thing I knew I had a resume and I was shooting smaller roles in film and television," said Chernick, who, unsurprisingly in a place the size of Winnipeg, would soon cross paths with the city's other movie industry workaholic, Sean Garrity, who directed both Blood Pressure and My Awkward Sexual Adventure.
"It was the meeting of two film geeks with very different sensibilities and tastes in movies," said Chernick, who was cast as the lead in Garrity's full-length debut, Inertia, which wound up taking home the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival's (TIFF) prize for best Canadian first feature film.
"It was kind of miraculous to us, we were just experimenting and trying to see what we could do," said Chernick. "Our careers kind of took off from there."
The pair spent five years developing their next film, Lucid, by passing the script back and forth before they struck gold again at the Vancouver International Film Festival, taking home the award for best Canadian feature.
Their years of collaboration culminated in their two most recent films, appearing at this year's WFF, which, in an uncharacteristic move for most festivals, will battle against each other for the event's top prize: the Borsos Competition for Best Canadian Feature.
"(New WFF programming director Paul Gratton) was so excited about the idea that we made two wildly different movies in the same year, and he liked both of them so much that he decided to shine a light on them. I said to him: 'You're probably going to get fired for this, it's your first year,'" said Chernick.
It speaks to Chernick's and Garrity's tireless work ethic and far-reaching abilities as filmmakers that they could produce an explicit sex comedy in My Awkward Sexual Adventure and an intense and intimate psychological thriller in Blood Pressure within the span of a year.
My Awkward Sexual Adventure, which stars Chernick as a bumbling accountant who enlists the help of an uninhibited stripper to help him improve his sexual prowess, sold out its TIFF screenings in an hour, which he attributed to the film's provocative title, but has since received almost universal critical acclaim on the festival circuit.
"The response to the movie has exceeded all of my wildest expectations, and I'm not exaggerating," said Chernick. "We wanted to make a very sexy, very raw and honest comedy about sex and I think we achieved that."
The film goes places where other Canadian flicks dare not tread, and offers an intimate and revealing look at sexual vulnerability that is completely avoided in the typical Hollywood sex comedy. It's also damn funny, with one scene in particular guaranteed to make even the most prudish viewer burst into fits of laughter.
Blood Pressure, which Chernick called "the complete opposite" to My Awkward Sexual Adventure, is a pulse-pounding picture about a bored housewife, played by Michelle Giroux, who escapes the monotony of her daily life when anonymous letters keep arriving at her door, urging her to perform a series of tasks that get increasingly dangerous as the story progresses.
"She's drawn into this world of mystery and excitement," said Chernick. "It's really about that point of your life that you've got all the domestic things that you've always dreamt of, but maybe you're missing something."
Chernick, who will make his first trip to Whistler for the festival, is excited to finally be a part of what he called "the Sundance of Canada".
"This is a festival I've always wanted to play at," he said. "The festival has a reputation for great hospitality and it takes good care of the filmmakers and really honours them."
My Awkward Sexual Adventure screens at the Whistler Conference Centre next Thursday (Nov. 29) at 8 p.m. and the following Sunday (Dec. 2) at 5:30 p.m. in the Rainbow Theatre.
Blood Pressure, meanwhile, plays twice at the conference centre, first next Friday (Nov. 30) at 7 p.m. and then again on Saturday (Dec. 1) at 12:30 p.m.
For tickets and more information on this year's fest, which runs from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2, visit www.whistlerfilmfestival.com.