Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan film The Sabbatical takes critical look at being middle-aged

A new Saskatchewan film examines the middle-age attitude in our society through the lens of a university professor on a sabbatical.

New film makes its Regina debut tonight at the Saskatchewan Science Centre Kramer Imax

Brian Stockton's latest film The Sabbatical stars James Whittingham.

Too young to be dead and too old to be alive.

James Whittingham is the co-writer and lead actor in the The Sabbatical, a new Saskatchewan film that takes a critical look at what it means to be middle-aged.

The film examines the middle-age attitude in our society through the lens of a university professor on a sabbatical. 

The Sabbatical recently premiered at the Whistler Film Festival. It makes its Regina debut tonight at the Saskatchewan Science Centre Kramer Imax Theatre.
 
Whittingham joined CBC Radio's The Morning Edition host Sheila Coles to talk about how he drew from his own experiences during the making of the film.

James Whittingham (left) with the Morning Edition host Sheila Coles. (Coreen Larson/CBC)

Tell me a little bit more about the story and what's going on there.

I think the director had a sabbatical coming up and he's lived a pretty free life as a filmmaker. Let's face it, there's no constrictions. There's no nine-to-five. There's no lunch box. It's a pretty good life if you're successful.

But he got old. His name is Brian Stockton and he's been a longtime friend of mine. He took a job at the university and he felt it's something us gen-Xers don't really want to do. We don't want to be committed to something that will eventually lead to death. It's like taking up smoking. We see careers as smoking.

If you get into something then your life is predictable after that and we hate that.

I'm kind of disgusted when people try to act like grown-ups. I think that we can act like children.- James Whittingham

He gets a reprieve from that nine-to-five, from that regular routine, and what he finds is his wife is a workaholic. She is a scientist working on the desire to get rid of the need for men. This is a real thing. You can look it up.

But she's on a breakthrough so she's working all the time. So he doesn't have his wife. They don't have kids and his friends are all busy with their kids. So he's alone and it's not going  as planned and his life starts to fall apart.

The dean wants a new book from him ... and he wants an even heavier book than last time. So he's trying to go out and make a photography book and he can't do it anymore. He's not the young artist he once was. And he starts to evaluate his life. He starts to evaluate the simple joys of youth and what he left behind with each passing year.

Do you draw on your own life experience for this?

Absolutely. I mean, you draw on your own life experience for any role, but I took this one particularly to heart.

I had a year to prepare for this film, which is very rare for anybody no matter how big or small you are. So I could sit and think about it for a year.

When mid-life issues came up with me, I would ponder it for myself but I would also ponder it for my character.

Which issues?

I weighed 380 pounds a few years ago and I could not get out of bed. I had no energy and I could not get out of bed. That was sort of a metaphor for aging. I felt like I was at the end of my life.

Embrace life and not have restrictions. And have fun like a child because why not?- James Whittingham

I had some intervention from my medical clinic ... I took up physical fitness. Started by walking a few steps at a time and that grew and it grew. And I became, "Well I've got this back. Can I get something more?"

I got on a bicycle very awkwardly. I bought a gigantic seat about the size of a bread box to put my butt on. Now, a year ago, I competed in a mountain biking race.

How did you do it?

Education. Knowledge is your friend. 

I knew that if I got up and walked to the light post and back that my body would adapt.

And I have an obsessive personality that helps. It's going to be different for everyone. But whatever you do, you work on your strengths.

I also had some psychological help from a class that the clinic put on about behavioural. I became aware of the behaviours that I was doing.

I embraced it. I didn't disbelieve what they were saying. I looked inward and found out that I was anxious around food. I was excited. I was like a drug addict when chocolate was in front of me.

What do you want other people who maybe are in that whole mid-life time of their lives to think about? Because there are different issues for different people, so what's the takeaway?

Everybody is going to have something different. 

For me, I'm kind of disgusted when people try to act like grown-ups. I think that we can act like children and I've always been immature. 

I think we make sacrifices. I think things fall away from us and become more narrower and more narrower. We give up things. We're not as joyous as we were as children. And that's one of the critical reviews that we are getting from the different reviews we've had. [The reviews] have all mentioned the word 'joyous' — that it's a joyous experience watching this film. That the characters go through joy. And that we feel is quite an accomplishment. That's exactly what we were aiming for.

So basically, it's embrace life and not have restrictions. And have fun like a child, because why not?

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