My Name Is Jonah

US | 2014 | Directed by Phil Healy & JB Sapienza

Logline: A portrait of a self-proclaimed real-life warrior and adventurer known only as Jonah, and how this cult of personality came and continues to be.

“In a time that lies just beyond yesterday, a boy given to dreaming, did become a man … forged in battle that raged within a tropical hell …”

One of the best true character documentaries of recent years, this is the kind of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction cases where the subject matter continues to defy all expectation and confounds the viewer with the enigma of their tenacity. If this aging All-American warrior’s fuel were an elixir and ambrosia, it would be rum and cranberry juice and two homemade cheeseburgers.

“And lo’ the man returned to the land he had inhabited in his youth, armed now with both the dreams of the boy and warrior’s guile of the man he had become …”

John Washnis has small man syndrome, it’s plain to see. But rather than it being projected as malice or spite or in any way vindictive, this bottled inadequacy is channeled into the spirit of the warrior on the edge of time. John became Jonah, his surname disappearing from public use eons ago. In its place he thrusts a broadsword, brandishes a crossbow, or whips around a nunchucker. He seizes role-playing adventure while others only daydream about it. He is Jonah … hear him roar like a fucking bear!

“Soon he found that reality not to his liking, so he created a new one for himself and those that chose to walk his path …”

Not only is Jonah a Myspace veteran and a Xmas-card legend (yes, for thirty years – 1976 to 2006 - he organised elaborate costume shoots for Christmas cards he designed and distributed to friends and followers across the world), but he is also one of the meanest harmonica players ever to hit the small town pub circuit. He even cut a record, Have Harp Will Travel, and continues to make notable guest appearances in rockin’ joints like The Stumblin’ Inn. 

Just as was revealed in the exceptional documentary Crumb, Jonah has family and friends that are, well, almost as curious as the man himself. One of Jonah’s best friends, apart from his Best Friend, the late canine Tonru, is Skip “The Trip” Evon, who began video recording Jonah’s exploits for archival purposes on a Hi-8 many moons back. There’s Gary Bader, Jonah’s childhood pal and longtime still photographer for the Xmas shoots. Gary has originals of the first ten issues of X-Men. There’s Mr. Chips, who was Jonah’s crazy chemical colleague.  There’s the Inhuman, Ferg, another childhood buddy of Jonah’s who liked to dress-up and play silly buggers. There's even a Russian bride.

And then there’s Jonah’s brother Jimmy, the ex-jock. Jimmy has a chip on his shoulder. A big one, it seems, as he has a quite a few shards he’s keen to throw Jonah’s way. Did Jonah really serve in the Special Forces in ‘Nam, or did he just hang out and drop acid in Germany? Hell, Jimmy’s convinced Jonah’s the Devil’s spawn! Quite the proclamation. Even Jonah’s sisters aren’t quite sure of the whole story.  

Not too dissimilar to the tragi-comedy that is Anvil: The Story of Anvil, this is an honest portrait, steeped in an endearing sadness, warts and all story, which demands to be lifted high on one’s shoulders and cheered on. My Name is Jonah brazenly steps onto its own comic-book pedestal and chants a cult mantra …

“You people are weeeeaak!!”

And we kneel and respond, “Only as weak as you are strong, Jonah!”


My Name Is Jonah screens as part of the 8th Sydney Underground Film Festival, Friday 5th, 10:30pm and Sunday 7th, 1pm, at Factory Theatre, Marrickville.