New Real Films has produced a gay zombie feature, a poignant rock drama, and a romance that skips a generation, all since 2008. A glance at the company’s production slate reveals a commitment to the unconventional, to say the least. Indeed, the films have found adoring audiences and critics as far afield as Venice (Gerontophilia) and Berlinale (Otto, or Up with Dead People), as well having numerous premieres right here at TIFF. In September 2013, President Jennifer Jonas was awarded the CMPA TIFF Producer’s Award, after six previous nominations. Evidently it pays to be different.
Jennifer’s background is in literature, with an undergraduate degree from McGill and a master’s from Cambridge. She is keenly aware of the need to balance vision and creativity with technique and budget. She trained by working her way up in the production business, beginning in location management. Her first gig was a summer job working on Quest for Fire by Jean Jacques Annaud. “I learned to think like a camera by having to scout and later secure locations. I gave up academia and have never looked back.”
Working her way up the production ladder, she quickly became one of Quebec’s leading assistant directors before becoming a producer. Between 1990 and 1998, she was first assistant director on six films directed by Francois Girard including Le Dortoir which won an Emmy, Thirty Short Films about Glenn Gould and The Red Violin both of which won Genies for best director and feature film as well as numerous other international honors including an Academy Award. “We had a fabulously productive run, Francois was the first director I ever worked closely with who thought in full realized visual terms. He taught me to see what a director sees.” Her early gigs as producer were at Rhombus Media where she collaborated on numerous productions with directors, Don McKellar and Barbara Willis Sweet, and partnered with fellow producer of the year winners, Daniel Iron and Niv Fichman.
In 2000, she became president of New Real Films after she met her husband and partner, Leonard Farlinger also a director and co-owner of the production company. Their first film together, The Perfect Son directed by Farlinger starred Colm Feore and David Cubitt and was nominated for numerous Genies and was a festival hit around the world. Their partnership has shaped a great deal of her projects. “Filmmaking is so challenging that to have a cherished life partner as well as a business partner, means that we have total confidence in what we’re doing and in each other. We met on set on 32 short films about Glenn Gould, and so we were colleagues before we became romantically involved, and therefore the romance grew out of similar ideas about storytelling and filmmaking. –“The relationship has always been about getting the most out of life and filmmaking and has always felt completely organic.”
Critical praise aside, Jonas says completing the rock musical drama, Trigger, was a particularly proud moment. “We made the film when our friend Tracy Wright was dying. Shot over four weekends, it was an incredibly empowering experience just to get the film made before we lost her and to inspire the filmmaking community to take part. It went on to win both Toronto critics’ and Vancouver critics’ awards, so it was recognized coast to coast and to be honest the whole film community shares in that honour.”
“To be successful in filmmaking,”– she says, “one must be able to manage both vision and technique. Feature filmmaking takes passion, love and devotion. As producers, we are stronger together than apart, and I mean that from activism, to moral support, to strength in numbers, to being able to benefit from all the members’ experience because we can’t all learn individual lessons… it’s much more beneficial to pool them together.”