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Sarah Polley Candidly Talks Must-See Memoir 'Stories We Tell' UPDATED (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO, TRAILER)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 4, 2013 at 1:09PM

Transparency is Canadian writer-actress-director Sarah Polley's credo, as you can see in our candid video interview about her memoir "Stories We Tell." When Polley showed the documentary 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.
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Sarah Polley
Sarah Polley

The winner of a Criticwire poll on "the best young director working today," Sarah Polley took matters into her hands when her documentary memoir "Stories We Tell" was about to debut at the 2012 Venice Film Festival, with Telluride, Toronto and Sundance 2013 to follow. Transparency is the writer-actress-director's credo, as you can see in her candid video interview with me, posted below, along with the trailer. 

"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."

This article is related to: Sarah Polley, Stories We Tell, Awards Season Roundup


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.