Sarah Polley, Playing Sensitive Interrogator And Making A Masterpiece With Stories We Tell
You said it took you five years to make and the you took the break to make Take This Waltz just to get away from it?
It was a very claustrophobic process and there were very few parts of it that I actually enjoyed. I mean, it was really rewarding and a lot that I felt grateful for, but it wasnít fun, thatís for sure.
Thereís clearly an openness in your family, but youíre asking people tough questions that are hard to ask anybody, much less loved ones. Does having directed films give you the skill set you needed to be able to ask those questions of your family?
I think so. I mean, I think that my family is a family that likes talking about the unspoken, likes breaking taboos, that likes pushing the envelope of whatís OK to say and whatís not OK to say and I think all of us are like that to some degree both in our private and our professional lives, so it wasnít hard to ask them to do this in the same way it might have been with another family, which isnít to say they didnít have reservations about it.
You've said that you didnít do the voice of God narration from your own point of view, because it seemed beside the point. But from the outside, it seems like your point of view is totally central! Why did you think it didn't matter?
I think because the idea of the film is about many different versions and of all of those versions of the same story being treated with respect and without judgement and being given room. If I were to interject my own version voiceover or put out my specific story, in a film I was already making, it would have automatically overridden everybody elseís voice. I think it would have really subtracted from the mess of everybody telling their story to have one clear story that the filmmaker is then telling. I think it would have been disrespectful to all of the other people in the film.
But you also have your dad reading his version and that is kind of the strongest through-line to the whole thing. He has the first word and the last word. Are you kind of privileging his point of view in a way?
I donít think so, because there are big parts of the story where he isnít speaking at all. For instance, the part of the story thatís about Harry and his affair with my mom. I mean, thatís almost exclusively told by Harry and thatís his story to tell. But the film did in the end, the through-line we found that worked the best, was this idea of my dad using this as an opportunity to begin writing and to begin telling his story and reexamining his life. So, it made sense to give the film that spine.
With the reenactments, how much of it do you expect us to go along with in thinking that they are real? Do you want everyone to kind of gradually think about it until the reveal happens near the end? Do you want us to buy into them completely?
I didnít really have an agenda, to be honest. I felt like I wanted people to wonder what was real and what wasnít at various points. I think I was surprised that some people didnít know until the end. I wanted there to certainly be a question in peopleís minds if what they were seeing was real or fake, but I didnít have a specific moment that I wanted that to be revealed expect obviously when I show myself behind the scenes.
Why did you want us to wonder what was real and what was fake?
I guess I wanted the audience to have an experience that mirrored my own, when youíre looking into the past and youíre hearing stories and getting new details. Itís very hard to know what to hold onto, especially when some of those details are conflicting. Itís very hard to know whatís imbued with nostalgia and what is really authentic, and I guess I wanted the audience to have those same questions with what they were seeing and to constantly be aware that the film was being constructed and that this isnít some objective truth. Youíre not going to walk out of this film with any answers about what actually happened. Itís simply a collection of versions of the same story.
You talk about your momís acting career so much, but the film doesn't talk about your acting career very much at all. When it was just you and your dad, when you were 11, you were acting and you were on television, you had this whole career, but you donít really talk about how her career reflected yours?
Yeah, I guess I feel like there are so many things in the film that I felt could have been relevant that had to go. I had 200 hours of footage, so thereís actually all kinds of sidebar stories that have a lot of resonance, I think, but if they didnít feel like they were really integral to the story that was being told, I left them behind. And certainly, my acting career felt like, in a way, who cares? Do you know what I mean? I feel like there is a certain parallel between her and me there, but there are probably lots of others as well that I didnít include. So, that was something that felt like also put the film in real danger of being really self-indulgent. Know what I mean? Like, ďOh, and also I want to talk about my career and my work.Ē You know? Like, what kind of jerk makes that movie?
You are clear about a lot of moments of uncertainty throughout the movie, asking yourself ďWhat am I doing? Why am I putting this out there this way?Ē It doesnít seem like you ever really did resolve that. I mean, you still donít know if itís self-indulgent.
Absolutely, yeah. I mean, I think that youíd be a lunatic to not have major questions about why youíre going to make something so personal and put it out there. So, I donít know if Iíll ever feel like I fully understand why I did this, except that this part of the process, in terms of actually talking about the film and putting it out there and getting to talk to people about it, itís like the first time Iíve really enjoyed the process. Because it feels like itís an extension of the film itself, getting to hear different perspectives and the different questions that arise. It feels like everybody has seen a totally different film and that for me was kind of part of the point of making it.
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