Most Exciting New Kid on the Block


Canadian actress turned director Sarah Polley says in a blog about her new film, Stories We Tell on the National Film Board of Canada site(, I realize that I’m not nearly accomplished enough to write this kind of blog without apology. The world is not waiting for my next film!

Frankly, she’s wrong. I am. I can’t wait.

Polley peaked my interest as early as 1997 when she appeared in The Sweet Hereafter playing the character, Nicole Burnell. She has a magnetic understated persona on film. The quieter she is, the more she intrigues you. It’s like going into a kennel and seeing all the dogs jumping and barking for your attention, but the one who pulls you in is the little one sitting by himself quietly, all the way in the back. There’s just something special about him.

That’s Polley. I watched her intently for another decade as she morphed to director. In 2006, when she released her first feature, Away From Her based on an Alice Monroe short story about a couple dealing with the wife’s Alzheimer’s disease. The story appealed to her as her own grandmother had suffered from the affliction. Polley said about her film in 2007, It was the opposite kind of love than we usually celebrate in films, which is new love without knowledge and without hardship. It’s the whole idea of love after life has had its way with you, and after you have kind of failed each other and things have gone off the rails. Yet love still somehow exists between them” Polley was a remarkable 27 when she made the film. A film with more heft in the first five minutes than all of Ben Hur. Now she really had my attention.

Her next feature venture Take This Waltz starring Michelle Williams had a voice all it’s own when dealing with the very common territory of betrayal. The film meandered some trying to find it’s voice. It wasn’t entirely successful. But it made it clear that Polley is an artist to be reckoned with, following no one’s voice but her own.

The new film, Stories We Tell, is neither documentary nor drama, but some down-the-rabbit-hole world in between. In the National Film Board of Canada blog mentioned above which is a must read for anyone who is OWF (obsessed with film…ouch. Sorry), Polley says, Making this film was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It took five years and tormented me. I didn’t want to make it, and I wanted to give up many times along the way… Ostensibly, the film is about Sarah’s mother who died when Polley was 11. But, Polley says, Personal documentaries have always made me a bit squeamish. I’ve seen some brilliant ones, but they often push the boundaries of narcissism and can feel more like a form of therapy than actual filmmaking.. And so the story is personal, but not personal. She heard a story told from a million different angles, and THAT was the fact that took her by the throat. …as the story was told, or perhaps because the story was told – it changed. So I decided to make a film about our need to tell stories, to own our stories, to understand them and to have them heard…I’m not claiming that my film lacks self involvement but what I wanted most was to examine the many versions of this story, how people held onto them, how they agreed and disagreed with each other, and how powerful and necessary creating narrative is for us to make sense of our bewildering lives. I wanted the story told in the words of everyone I could find who could speak about it. Whatever my own feelings are about the events that are outlined, about the many dynamic and complicated players or the stunning, vibrant woman my mother was, they are ephemeral, constantly out of my grasp, they change as the years pass.

This is what grabs one about Sarah Polley and makes her exciting as an artist to watch. She has the rare ability to struggle with the voices inside her head, relentlessly filtering through them, making sure the authentic voice that emerges belongs to no one but herself. That what the best of artist’s do, they take a personal story and see its common mythology, making it the story of us all.

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