Sarah Polley turns her family situation into a documentary

Courtesy PhotoSarah Polley

Courtesy PhotoSarah Polley

Fresh from the San Francisco International Film Festival, Sarah Polley’s third film as director, “Stories We Tell,” is unlike her previous feature films, the superb “Away from Her” and “Take This Waltz.”

But “Stories We Tell” is not just any documentary. It’s a unique, emotional and surprising ride about a powerful event in Polley’s life.

Instead of facts, Polley deals with memory, doubt and a host of other tenuous concepts. As the movie begins, she interviews her sister, who poses the very good question, “Who cares about our family?”

Polley likes that question and does not know the answer.

“My questions about why I was making this film never really ended, and they probably still haven’t,” she said while in town at the festival last month.

In addition to telling her family story, including the death of her mother when she was just 11, Polley includes footage of her father recording narration for the film and images of herself trying to figure out what to do next.

“I felt like it was important to include the construction of this film, the artistic process, and the confusion around that,” she says. “Storytelling is a bit of a mess. It’s a process riddled with self-doubt and intertwined with identity and our presentations of ourselves to others.”

In “Stories We Tell,” Polley interviews Harry Gulkin, who produced the Oscar-nominated “Lies My Father Told Me.” On camera, he explains why he thinks Polley’s film won’t work.

Polley was pleased, though. “He gave me a gift by being so eloquent about what he believed the film should be, and what a film should be generally, and why this wasn’t that. It was an opportunity for me to create a whole parallel story about the film being made and what that meant.”

A former child actress, Polley got involved in the documentary format when she was a teen and beginning to appear in grown-up movies like Atom Egoyan’s “Exotica.”

The Canadian Broadcasting Company did a story on her and asked her to “ do something normal,” like play a CD, while they filmed her.

“I remember doing it and thinking, ‘This is such bulls***.’ It made me absolutely furious,” she says. “But it stuck with me,” she continues. “You can’t do these ridiculous conventions anymore. It’s not respectful to an audience. We’re so far beyond that.”

artsentertainmentMoviessarah polleyStories We Tell

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Second grader Genesis Ulloa leads students in an after-school community hub in a game at the Mission YMCA on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF parents face school year with hope, trepidation and concern

‘Honestly, I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it’

Health care workers in the intensive care unit at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, with Alejandro Balderas, a 44-year-old patient who later died. Even in California, a state with a coronavirus vaccination rate well above average, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has nearly doubled in the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database. (Isadora Kosofsky/The New York Times)
Why COVID took off in California, again

‘The good news is: The vaccines are working’

Lake Oroville stood at 33 percent full and 40 percent of historical average when this photograph was taken on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Tribune News Service)
A kayaker on the water at Lake Oroville, which stands at 33 percent full and 40 percent of historical average when this photograph was taken on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 in Oroville, Calif. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Tribune News Service)
Facing ‘dire water shortages,’ California bans Delta pumping

By Rachel Becker CalMatters In an aggressive move to address “immediate and… Continue reading

Most Read