|The first thing that becomes apparent when speaking with Regina filmmaker Robin Schlaht is that hes a serious artist who is skeptical about much of the film industry. But the next thing you notice is that his scepticism doesnt prevent him from speaking eloquently about his own ideas, and it doesnt devolve into the kind of paralyzing cynicism that plagues many directors. Hes quite clear about where hes coming from.
"I start a project for one of three reasons," he says. "To express an idea, explore a theory or expose an injustice and sometimes its all three.
"It probably sounds sanctimonious to say that, but it also feels true to me because there are so many subjects deserving of attention out there that you really have to have a process for charting the course of your life and your career."
This political approach is worlds away from the arch hipness that pervades much contemporary filmmaking, and he may be consigning himself to a lifetime of obscurity, but Schlaht is concerned with other, more cerebral endeavours.
Following a number of documentary films, Schlahts first fiction feature, Solitude, is set at St. Peters Abbey in Saskatchewan and details the struggles as they grapple with philosophical questions.
One of these three inquisitive souls is a Benedictine monk experiencing a crisis of faith (Lothaire Bluteau of Black Robe and Jesus of Montreal), while the others are female guests (played by Vanessa Martinez and Wendy Anderson) on retreat at the abbey.
While Schlaht says the film is generally an investigation of how to live a purposeful life, he admits that he left the specifics of each character deliberately vague.
"The characters are as much strangers to each other at the beginning of the film as they are strangers to the audience," says Schlaht. "And they meet in this environment where the asking of questions is not encouraged and even fewer answers are given.
"So, the characters themselves never delve. They never really learn a lot about each other. Theyre wrapped up in this process of observing, interpreting and misinterpreting. So it seemed appropriate to draw the audience into a similar process."
In a sense, Schlaht is very subtly encouraging people to embrace the contemplative moment. He has spent time on retreat at the abbey featured in the film and at other monasteries like it throughout the world, and has been struck by how important silence and privacy are at such places. These are rare things, indeed, in our fast-paced industrialized world, and some would say that the films celebration of them is somewhat archaic and old-fashioned.
But Solitude asks us to question everything about our society, not least of all our place in it the film allows you the time and space to think.
Schlaht says he always wanted Solitude to be slow-paced he didnt want to try to pull a contemplative film out of a hectic, high-tension shoot.
"We really adjusted our lives to the pace of life at the abbey," he says. "All the cast and crew stayed at St. Peters Abbey, we took all our meals communally in their dining hall... and I think that really informed the film."
And for Schlahts part, he too has grappled with its central question and has tried to bring the results of his philosophical inquiry into keeping with his own life and career. As a filmmaker, he says its important to behave purposefully, especially when making movies is such a consuming process.
"Im very conscious (to avoid) being involved in any way with a film that is exploitative or celebrates violence or is simply devoid of ideas," he says. "I take sort of a holistic approach to cinema."
Solitude is screening one night only director Robin Schlaht will be in attendance to discuss the film.