Stories We Tell

By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on November 07, 2012

Stamp image Priority
StarStarStarStarHalf Star

Dear Diane Polley
Documentary Subject

Dear Diane,

You didn't live long enough to see Sarah blossom from adorable child star into important Canadian artist, but based on your own career ambitions, it's safe to say your little girl would have made you proud. She grew up in front of the camera, recently earned an Academy Award nomination behind the camera, and now she's taking the camera even further. In her documentary Stories We Tell, Sarah puts the Polley family under investigation. She's looking for answers (one in particular), and more importantly, a better understanding about her own identity. You kept the truth hidden for your entire life, and to our wonder, fascination, and delight, your youngest daughter tells the compelling tale.

Some reviews for the film have revealed this mystery as if it's a simple component necessary to the synopsis. But I'm going to take your lead and keep quiet. Instead, I'll focus on all the other brilliant things I love about this very personal documentary.

It starts with the film's "personality". That it doesn't take itself too seriously (that wonderful Canadian attribute) shows confidence in the subject matter. It seems that Sarah - and others members of the family - often questioned the interest others had in exploring such personal questions. The frankness of some of the answers would probably make you blush, but of course, the more specific everyone gets, the more real you become to us strangers--and the more universal Sarah's story becomes.

This directorial approach also renders the film's construction refreshingly transparent. We get some great candid moments as your friends and family prepare to be interviewed. We see your husband Michael recording a voiceover (a heartfelt and articulate piece of introspection that he composed himself); Sarah asks him to re-record lines, no matter how confident he is with the delivery. We also get a mixture of found and new footage, but the line between truth and fiction blurs as the film wears on. That's another wonderful revelation we learn over the course of the film.

At one point, Sarah herself is asked what the film is really about. Her answer is a bit laboured and intellectual, touching on ideas of representation and identity. Of course the truth is much simpler, even if these themes are what make the film resonate. But as the film itself proves, not knowing all the answers has no bearing on our love for the final product. And what your daughter has created is something I was able to love without reservation.



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