BOREALIS: Director Sean Garrity Examines Addiction & the Gift of Deception Sunday • September 25th • The State Theatre • 7:00 PM

Hells Half Mile Director Profile

    icon Sep 01, 2016
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In this compelling new work by director Sean Garrity, the central character Jonah is driven by his gambling addiction and lies compulsively to his creditors, his long-suffering girlfriend, and his teenage daughter Aurora. Consequently, rather than confront Aurora with the truth and growing seriousness of her vision disorder, he persuades her to skip town with him on a road trip to see the Northern Lights.

The reality of the situation is that Jonah is on the lam from his bumbling loan sharks, from his daughter’s diagnosis, and maybe even from himself. Written, produced, and starring Jonas Chernick, who applies a light comic touch to the character of Jonah as he tries to make it to the Borealis while regaining his daughter’s trust and saving his own skin in the process.

When asked about the inception of Borealis and the creative objectives he seeks to achieve with this work, Garrity explains how the idea began with a true story he heard a few years ago about a man who rented an RV to take his daughter across Canada before she lost her sight. “I was unusually touched by it; and as such, it struck me as an interesting set up for a film, so I filed it away somewhere in my brain.”

“Later that same year, I found myself speaking with a man who worked at an RV dealership, who was very enthusiastic in his affection for his job,” Garrity continues. “Feeling like I wanted to add something to this conversation, but with no direct RV experience myself outside of film, I shared this story I had heard about the man and his daughter. The RV rental agent smiled: ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘A Last Wish Rental. Those are my favorites.’ As it turns out, the story I had heard is quite a common one. People losing their sight, or their mobility, or suffering from a terminal illness, are often taken on RV trips, fulfilling a lifelong dream held by either themselves, or their caregivers. A Last Wish Rental.”

As he quickly went to his computer to scribble down this idea he found himself filling in numerous details not contained within the original story.  “The Mom was absent, the daughter was a teenager, and the father saw the road trip as an opportunity to reset their relationship. He didn’t want her to see Canada, but rather the Rocky Mountains because they were the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, so he wanted to share the experience with her before she ascended out of his reach into adulthood.  I turned all this into a short film called Blind, which now happily lives out its day on iTunes,” he smiles.

Garrity’s frequent collaborator, Jonas Chernick, loved the story of Blind so much that he convinced Garrity to allow him to adapt it into a feature film. “I resisted him at first, but eventually he wore me down,” confesses Garrity. “I acquiesced and he wrote the screenplay for Borealis and reset it geographically, so the characters journey north to see the Northern Lights instead of west to the Rockies. He also added a lot of comedy and some lovely flaws for my lead characters. Ultimately, Blind and Borealis are very different films that essentially tell the same story.”

Borealis marks Garrity’s seventh theatrical feature film. After high school he lived as an exchange student in India for a year and while there his parents sent him an application for film school at York University in Toronto. “I’d been toying with the idea of getting into theatre or music or the plastic arts, and I think they foolishly thought film would be an art form where you can actually make money. Little did they know.”

After getting his film degree, Garrity decided to go to Japan where he ended up teaching English for a few years, playing in a Blues band, and backpacking around Asia. “On the eve of turning 30, while sitting on a beach in Indonesia, I found myself contemplating what I was doing with my life and made a decision to go back to my hometown and only work on things I love: being a musician or a filmmaker. If that ended in financial ruin for me, which seemed the most likely outcome, I would come back to Asia and work.”

Creating a Maoist-like 5-Year Plan for himself to make his first feature film, Garrity returned to home in Winnipeg and found work as a bass player, performing live and eventually moving into tours and recording. “Then I started making music videos for the bands I played in, and that morphed into short films, and - one-year shy of my self-imposed 5-year-deadline – I made a feature film, INERTIA, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Just in time. Otherwise, I'd probably be working at a Karaoke bar in Osaka right now, which sometimes I think wouldn't be so bad.”

When asked about the cinematic influences that have inspired or informed his work, Garrity notes that while he would love to list all his favorite filmmakers, “I think the reality for me is always that I am most influenced by the artists who work around me. On this film, Samy Inayeh, my cinematographer, worked very closely with me to develop the visual style of the film – as a movie about vision itself, there is lots of fun to be had in the visual design. Also the editor, John Gurdebeke, the composer, Ari Posner, the production designer, Maryam Decter, and my actors – they all bring their particular energies and personalities to the movie which really influences my work a lot.”

“In all my films, I strive to make something entertaining, fast-moving, with an engaging story that grabs an audience and propels them through to the end – and I try to balance it with something deeper, and heartfelt. I am proud of how we hit that balance in Borealis – there are lots of laughs, and lots of really tense sequences, but – I hope – the thing that the audience takes home is a sensation of having been moved emotionally.”

In terms of the cast that signed on for Borealis, Garrity says he feels fortunate. “I've never really worked with big Hollywood movie stars before, so we were really lucky to get Kevin Pollak (The Usual Suspects, Casino, The Whole Nine Yards, That Thing You Do! ) and Joey King (The Conjuring, Whitehouse Down, The Dark Knight Rises, Crazy Stupid Love) to be in the film. They both said that they had been moved by the script – knowing what our budget was, I can guarantee that they weren't moved by the paycheck.”

Did his perspective about the characters evolve as he commenced the film necessitating any script revisions or re-shooting any scenes, or did he pretty much stick with his final draft of the script?

“Ultimately, there were significant changes from scripting to shooting to the edit suite,” he explains. “The film went from a drama to an all-out comedy and then finally settled on something in-between. We originally wrote a straight drama and to help get it financed, we added a lot of comedy. We cast Kevin Pollak – who had us in stitches on set – so, our first cut was very, very funny. But I found that the humor was fighting the impact of the dramatic elements a little bit, so we had to pull it back and re-order some scenes. Some really, really funny stuff ended up on the editing room floor – not that there aren't still lots of laughs in the film. But now, I feel, that it's more of a balanced picture.”

“Instead of trying to do crazy camera or sound things, I like to just try to tell the story and let my camera style and coverage and my colors and sound design grow organically out of that,” concludes Garrity. 

“My background as a musician has increasingly started to influence the way I view filmmaking. “Being a director is a lot like being a bass player. The bass player is there and holds down the song and he’s the root, but he’s not the guy who gets noticed. If you don’t notice the bass player, he’s probably doing a good job, playing simple, holding the song down. That’s what I aspire to do as a director.”


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