Actress turned writer-director Sarah Polley has proven a daring filmmaker. After tackling the tricky topic of Alzheimer's disease with her Oscar-nominated drama Away From Her, she went on to make Take This Waltz, a romance that defied convention and divided critics. Personally, I loathed her last film, finding it meandering overall. But at times Polley's direction achieved moments of exhilarating poignancy. This plus the fact I admire the fearlessness apparent in her filmmaking made me open to seeing more work from her. And now, here it comes, a new film that takes an even bigger risk than its predecessors.
Polley makes the leap to documentarian with Stories We Tell, interviewing her own family to unfold the truth behind their inside jokes and oft-retold tales. The doc which has been five-years in the making debuted at the Venice Film Festival last week, and with it Polley lies bare a secret she's long hidden from the press, the world, and for some time, even her own father. Check out the trailer below—courtesy of THR—and see if you can guess at what lies beneath the familial patter and brilliant smiles:
Polley's mother died when she was 11, but as an adult she was offered a unique opportunity to get to know the woman who'd given birth to her, thanks to the many stories conveyed by friends, family and lovers. It's the exploration of the importance and evolution of stories like these that Polley hoped to explore with this doc.
In part because of the incredibly personal nature of the film, and it part because she hopes to keep focus on the film and not its backstory, Polley has made it clear she won't be doing press in promotion of Stories We Tell, at least not until its eventual theatrical release. Yet she did want to speak to what inspired her to unveil such a potentially painful secret to the world. So, on National Film Board of Canada’s website, she offered an eloquent and earnest explanation. I encourage you to read it in full, but warning, there are spoilers therein. The excerpt below; however, is spoiler-free:
" Everyone who heard the story seemed to want to own it. Up until then many people had mused aloud to me that the story would make a great film. I disagreed. While it had huge relevance and emotional impact for the people close to it, I felt that this story was in fact quite common. I felt I had seen this film before. However, the process of watching a story take on a life of its own, mutate, and change in so many other people’s words fascinated me. And as the story was told, or perhaps because the story was told – it changed. So I decided to make a film about our need to tell stories, to own our stories, to understand them, and to have them heard."
Stories We Tell will next screen at the Toronto International Film Festival later this week.