Picking a major can be one of the most difficult decisions one can make as a university student. However, U of M alumnus and Toronto-based filmmaker Jonas Chernick knew he was going to be a film major from the very start.
“I was an arts guy and other than whatever other required courses I had to take to get my [bachelor of arts degree], all I took were film classes and theatre classes,” Chernick said.
“I was heavily involved with the Black Hole Theatre […] but most of my time was spent sitting in the movie theatre classes — I would call them — and watching movies.”
Taking three to four film courses a year exposed Chernick to movies and film theory that would ultimately help him throughout his career.
“It was very, very informative and I would say over the course of my four-year [degree] I saw hundreds of films that I would not have otherwise seen, and that helped turn me into a film artist that I consider myself to be today,” he said.
After graduating from the U of M in the mid-’90s, Chernick maintained his ties with the students he had met in his program. Together, they took their acting ambitions to the professional stage.
“We formed our own independent theatre company and we started to do productions at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival,” Chernick said.
“We would collaboratively create a show from the ground up.”
“I handled a bit of the business side of the company. So, I was also doing the financing and the marketing and the producing, all of which ended up feeding into me making my own films […] about five or six years later,” he added.
However, it was the acting that launched Chernick’s career. After getting the attention of a casting company while performing at the Fringe, Chernick was part of the television and movie boom happening in Winnipeg.
“I started booking TV jobs and film jobs, smaller parts, and just kept doing that through the ’90s,” he said.
“And then around 2000 [I] made my first film, which we thought was just a little artsy, indie kind of movie that nobody would ever see, but it got into [Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)] and it won an award […] and suddenly I had an acting career, which is what I always wanted.”
The film was Inertia, Winnipeg filmmaker Sean Garrity’s first full-length film, which won Best Canadian First Feature Film at TIFF.
After a taste of success, Chernick moved to Toronto and kept up his acting career. However, he kept coming back to Manitoba to make films.
“When I wasn’t acting on somebody else’s project, to keep myself sane, I would write scripts and try to get them made,” Chernick said.
“So, by default […] I accidently became a writer-producer while I was waiting for other people to hire me as an actor. I started to make my own films and all of them, by the way, were shot in Manitoba.”
“I kept coming [back to Manitoba] to make films — my own films — and as those films found some success […] it dovetailed nicely with this acting career that I was also nurturing. And then that all culminated with making this film, James vs. His Future Self, which is the biggest, most ambitious, most extensive film I’ve made to date.”
Set to be released April 3 on digital streaming platforms, James vs. His Future Self has been a film in the making for many years now. Focusing on a time-travelling obsessed scientist, he meets his future self who has time travelled to tell James not to become the world’s first time traveller.
Starring Chernick as James and Daniel Stern of Home Alone fame as James’s future self, Chernick’s friend and fellow Canadian filmmaker Jeremy LaLonde directs the sci-fi rom-com, having helped Chernick develop the screenplay.
“When I was 19, I went backpacking through Europe with my friend and went to ‘find myself,’” Chernick said.
“I didn’t ‘find myself,’ but I started to wonder what would happen if I literally found myself. […] What would that conversation be like — what would you ask and what would you want to know, what wouldn’t you want to know and how would it change you to have met yourself?”
“Eventually, I acted in a film in 2015 […] and the director of that film is a friend of mine, Jeremy LaLonde, and we had a good experience working together. He said to me afterwards ‘Hey, I’d like to develop my next film and I’m thinking of something that’s kind of sci-fi. Do you have any ideas?’ And I just threw this idea out.”
Collaborating and developing the film together, Chernick and LaLonde didn’t set out to make a sci-fi film per se — they wanted to “use time as a device to explore character.”
Described by Chernick as “a warm hug of a movie,” he’s finding the release of his biggest project serendipitous.
“I want people to feel good, especially right now — we need a distraction, we need something positive and full of life and love and humour,” he said.
“The movie is ultimately about learning to be present and to be in the moment […] And so, hopefully the movie will also make the audience think a little bit about what they’ve got and take a moment to stop and smell the roses and just take a deep breath and ‘be.’”
Just like his movie, Chernick’s future in the film industry looks positive, proving you can be a kid from Winnipeg and make it big. Hopefully he can now take his own advice to relish in the moment.
“Because everything has been cancelled and all the work is put on hold and everything, all you have is what you’ve got right in front of you […] so it’s a good moment to kind of take stock of that.”