Toronto loves Sarah Polley. The display of that love was evident last week at the premiere of her first documentary Stories We Tell which held its Canadian premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. I was able to see the film with an audience rather than at a press screening, and the love they feel for her is palpable. It was really amazing to see. She is an incredibly talented filmmaker who takes a bold step by putting the lens on herself, her family and its secrets. It’s not a conventional documentary by any means. She has reenactments of past events. She has written a whole narration which her father reads throughout the movie. As the two of them sit there him reading, her directing you see them reflecting on their whole lives and how they are both so affected by all that the film reveals. She sets the whole thing up as if she is willing the way the answers will turn out. Not to give too much away because it is just so good, the film is about secrets and family and the search for truth and how many version of the truth exist.
Polley tells us the story of her family. The family is built on lies and love. A failed marriage, the loss of children, an affair. Pretty typical stuff in this day and age. Then Polley digs in and peels back the layers. This is a painful exercise for the whole family. For years the family joked that Sarah was not the biological daughter of the man who raised her. It was one of those jokes that no one really attempted to examine but left a constant lingering question that dug at Sarah. The problem for Sarah is that she can’t talk to her mother who has been dead for about 20 years. So she digs all around her mother, but as she digs she unearths the secrets buried for so long.
The film is mostly about love. How love is not only born but earned. How your father is the man who raised you and that there can be another person who you are biologically conected to. It is also about family and the bonds that tie us together.
The thing that it solidified is that Polley is a wonderful director (I know we already knew that) who has a deep emotional depth to her work. This film proves she is at the top of her generation of filmmakers and that she will be a great director to watch over the years. The film was picked up for release by Roadside in the US.