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Decade: Sarah Polley on “Away From Her”

Decade: Sarah Polley on "Away From Her"

EDITOR’S NOTE: Every day for the next month, indieWIRE will be republishing profiles and interviews from the past ten years (in their original, retro format) with some of the people that have defined independent cinema in the first decade of this century. Today, we’ll step back to 2007 with an interview indieWIRE had with Sarah Polley upon the release of her “Away From Her,” which would go on to get her an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay.

indieWIRE INTERVIEW | “Away From Her” Director Sarah Polley

Actor/director Sarah Polley has won accolades both at home in Canada and around the world for her roles in “My Life Without Me,” “Lantern Hill,” “Go,” and “The Sweet Hereafter” among many others. Her latest directing venture, “Away From Her” starring Julie Christie, Olympia Dukakis, Gordon Pinsent and Kristen Thomson has also garnered festival praise, including at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it premiered last September and at the Sedona Film Festival Stateside where it won the “Excellence in Filmmaking” award. The drama centers on Grant and Fiona, a couple who have been married for decades with a closeness that’s unmistakable. Now retired, they live comfortably in their country home, but their contentment is disrupted when Fiona’s memory starts to deteriorate… indieWIRE interviewed Polley upon the film’s release.

What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?

Throughout most of my acting career I had zero interest in filmmaking. I always wanted to write though, and felt an urgent need to express myself more literally than I could as an actor.
About eight years ago, I decided on a whim to make a short film and discovered that I knew almost nothing about the process of actually putting a film together, and that I had never been so challenged or rewarded by anything in my life. I knew then that I never wanted to stop.

Are there still other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?

I’m interested in producing. But not interested enough to have a job that stressful and thankless.

Please talk about how the idea for “Away from Her” came about…

I fell in love with Alice Munro‘s short story, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” and couldn’t get the idea of making it into a film out of my head. I found it to be the most interesting and complex portrait of a marriage I’d ever read. I couldn’t get Julie Christie’s face out of my head in the character of Fiona. I felt like I had to make it.

Gordon Pinsent and Kristen Thomson in a scene from Sarah Polley’s “Away From Her.” Photo by Michael Gibson, courtesy of Lionsgate.

How did the financing and casting for the film come together?

The majority of the money for the film was public federal money for Canadian film through Telefilm Canada. We also received money from the provincial government of Ontario through the Ontario Media Development Corporation as well as some broadcast money and some gap financing from Echo Lake in the states.

I wrote the script with Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis and Kristen Thomson in the leading roles. It certainly wasn’t easy, but somehow I ended up with them all playing the parts that were written for them.

Who are some of the creative influences that have had the biggest impact on you?

Kieslowski, Terence Mallick and Bergman.

What is your next project?

I’m just at the beginning stages of an original screenplay and another adaptation.

What is your definition of “independent film,” and has that changed at all since you first started working?

I think a truly independent film is one in which a filmmaker’s vision is the driving force. I think it’s important to have creative input and support, but too many films are now made by committee. A true independent film is one that has a distinct, unique, autonomous voice that is allowed to speak clearly without too much interference.

What are some of your all-time favorite films, and some of your recent favorite films?

Scenes From A Marriage” by Bergman – It made me realize that the subtlest human behaviour can be more shocking than an earthquake.

The Thin Red Line” – It single handedly lifted and carried me out of a deep depression and gave me faith in other humans. ( it’s a large statement but it’s true.)

Also “Cache” and “Notes on a Scandal.”

What are your interests outside of film?

Cooking, reading, canoeing…

What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?

Always admit what you don’t know… Everybody knows you’re an amateur charlatan… The gig is up.


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Decade: Kenneth Lonergan on “You Can Count On Me”

Decade: Mary Harron on “American Psycho”

Decade: Christopher Nolan on “Memento”

Decade: Agnes Varda on “The Gleaners and I”

Decade: Wong Kar-wai on “In The Mood For Love”

Decade: John Cameron Mitchell on “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”

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Decade: Alfonso Cuarón on “Y Tu Mama Tambien”

Decade: Mira Nair on “Monsoon Wedding”

Decade: Todd Haynes on “Far From Heaven”

Decade: Gasper Noe on “Irreversible”

Decade: Andrew Jarecki on “Capturing The Freidmans”

Decade: Sofia Coppola on “Lost in Translation.”

Decade: Michael Moore on “Fahrenheit 9/11”

Decade: Miranda July on “Me and You and Everyone We Know”

Decade: Andrew Bujalski On “Funny Ha Ha”

Decade: Gregg Araki on “Mysterious Skin.”

Decade: Noah Baumbach on “The Squid and the Whale”

Decade: Ryan Fleck on “Half Nelson”

Decade: Ramin Bahrani on “Man Push Cart”

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