Actress turned Oscar nominated writer/director, Sarah Polley has a new film out called Stories We Tell. It's a documentary about the secrets kept by her own family over the secretive life of her mother and the realization at age 27 her biological father was not in fact the man who had raised her as his own. The National Film Board of Canada described it as, "the elusive nature of truth and memory, but at its core is a deeply personal film about how our narratives shape and define us as individuals and families, all interconnecting to paint a profound, funny and poignant picture of the larger human story."
Canadian born Polley started out as an actor at the age of 4, largely due to having parents in the industry. She won two Gemini awards (Canadian equivalent of the Emmy) by her teens. Soon, a wider audience started noticing her after working with director Atom Egoyan on Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter. She continued to pursue roles that were less commercial and more independent, appearing in David Cronenberg's ExistenZ. Watch her in a clip from ExistenZ. She appears at the end of the scene.
In recent years, Polley transitioned from in front of the camera to behind it, directing several critically acclaimed films including, Away from Her, nominated for two Oscars and Take This Waltz starring Seth Rogen and Michelle Williams.
The New York Times interviewed Polley to discuss her new film, her versatile career and which medium she prefers.
If I could choose to do just one thing, it would be to write, both screenplays for other people to direct, and also fiction. I love the directing aspect of it. I find it hugely challenging and hugely rewarding, but it's so unbelievably stressful. There are times where I think I'd just make a better writer. And acting is something that, you know, I love doing, but just because I'm making my own films very rarely have time to do a lot of.
Stories We Tell is Polley's first documentary. It premiered at last year's Venice Film Festival and has already won a Genie Award and a Toronto Film Critics Association Awards for Best Documentary. It took her five years to make it and there's already Oscar buzz surrounding the pic. Polley talks about her inspiration to make this very personal film.
The real impetus was watching how many stories were arising out of the same story. The story was making its way back to me third- and fourth-hand as something totally different than what I had experienced. So I became really fascinated by the fact that we're all telling stories that we believe to be true, that have resonance for us, and that can be so different from the stories that other people have of the same set of events.
A documentary film can change the way you view the world. They're based on facts and cover the raw material of life. Journalist/Author Erik Barnouw stated in his book "Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film", that, "the documentarist has a passion for what he finds in images and sounds - which always seem to him more meaningful than anything he can invent. It is in selecting and arranging his findings that he expresses himself. At the same time, if the film is to be documentary and not propaganda, this creative arrangement must result in work that adheres not only to standards of good storytelling, but also good journalism."
Over the past decade, the popularity of documentaries has made the medium more commercial than ever before. Michael Moore's doc, Fahrenheight 9/11 has taken in $120M at the box office and won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. In the top 100 grossing docs of all time are several films from the Miramax library including, Madonna: Truth or Dare, Paris is Burning, Unzipped, Rhyme & Reason, and Microcosmos. Watch a clip from the Sundance award winning Paris is Burning. This scene talks about the dangers of being a transsexual in New York City in the 1980's and the tragic consequences that sometimes came of it.
Documentary filmmaking can be such a powerful medium. There are so many hidden gems to discover that may change the way you view your own world. It's exciting to watch a talent like Polley explore the medium and deliver a film that critics are calling "a revelation", "extraordinary" and as A.O. Scott described, "one of the boldest and most exciting films I've seen in the last six months, and the kind of experience that has the power to alter your perception of the world."
As more Hollywood blockbusters open this weekend, find some time to soak in a documentary and potentially change your perception of the world. Check out our documentaries listed above and watch scenes from them and many more of our films, in our Miramax Clips Gallery.
Stories We Tell is now playing in select theaters.