"Stories We Tell," which has earned raves and is already an award-winner in Canada, is an unfolding and morphing portrait of the Canadian filmmaker's uncovering of her family history and secrets, and a personal exploration into the smudged line between truth and mythology. The film was snapped up by Roadside Attractions, hit theaters stateside on May 17 and is now available on Netflix, Amazon and other sites. The IDA nominee will screen at DOCS NYC (November 14-21) and will be a robust contender in this year's competitive documentary awards race.
"I was in a very strange position," Polley says. "The film was about to be shown, with the expectation of doing interviews. I made the film specifically, I didn't want it told any other way, with all the voices, all the players involved, five years of laboring and agonizing over telling the story." She didn't want to do interviews and "speak without rigor and thoughtfulness. I hate being evasive or closed down. I worried I'd sabotage years of work."
So she took to the internet and while her young baby was taking a nap, cranked out a blog post explaining why she was not doing interviews or telling the main secrets of the film, especially to the many Canadian journalists who had agreed to keep her family revelations private, and expected in return for her to do interviews with them when the movie came out. When Polley finally showed the film at festivals she was stunned that when people came up to her afterwards it was not to talk about her family mysteries, but their own. It turns out that she struck a universal chord.
At the start, Polley workshopped the movie with Canada's National Film Board Lab. She watched hundreds of documentaries to figure out the narrative methods she liked (from "The Five Obstructions" and "F is for Fake" to Kurosawa feature "Rashomon") and musts-to-avoid. She remembers a "terrible sinking moment" when she realized that there "was no model for how to make this film. I had to find my own voice, my way of constructing it."