STORIES WE TELL (2012) – Documentary Retroview

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A Stunning Autobiographical Documentary

In Stories We Tell, acclaimed Canadian actress and director Sarah Polley documents her own search to find out the truth about her parentage, trying to track down the truth about whether the man she’s known as dad for her entire life is or is not her biological father. At the root of her quest are a tangled knot of rumors that she is actually the offspring of an illicit affair that her mother, an actress, had with an actor with whom she was working in a Canadian regional theater.

A Journey of Self Discovery

Polley turns the camera on herself as she pursues her investigation. In doing so, she actually positions herself as the central character in her own fascinating journey of self discovery. Yet she’s able to maintain an objective investigative tone that prevents the piece from becoming the sort of exercise in egocentricity that marks the work of some documentary filmmakers who feature themselves as the central protagonists in their nonfiction films.

With rare self-awareness, sophistication, objectivity and humor, Polley records her resolute research efforts, although she realizes that she might be emotionally distraught as a result, and might cause her family — especially the man she’s called dad, irreversible distress and pain.

With an innate sense of drama and keen talent for storytelling, Polley seeks out and interviews people — including Michael Polley, who raised her from infancy — who might provide her with the answers to the deeply personal questions that are weighing on her.

Polley is deliberate and brilliant in her performance as director, interviewer and as the subject of her own film. She’s always in control of her quest, and of the documentation of it.

No Spoilers, But…

Eventually Polley does disentangle the rumors and discover the truth. She finds the man who is most likely to be her biological father and they accept each other. Polley records their meetings and his story, and lays the groundwork for their exploring and forming a warm and meaningful familial relationship with each other.

Knowing the nature of Polley’s search and the outcome of her quest before seeing the film will not interfere with your enjoyment of it. The search has many surprising and moving moments. And, Polley’s approach to her personal narrative leaves a lot of room for her — and your — reflections on the nature of family, parentage, heritage, role playing and interpersonal relationships — all of which makes her search all the more engaging for viewers. Stories We Tell is a stunning, must-see autobiographical documentary that will surely make you a fan of Polley’s work, if her narrative features, Away From Her and Take This Waltz, and her work as an actress in numerous narrative feature films have not already done so. The documentary opened in limited theatrical release, premiering in New York on May 17, 2013, and subsequently expanded to other markets. Its DVD release was on September 3, 2013.

Film Details:

Title: Stories We Tell
Director: Sarah Polley
Release Date: US Premiere: May 3, 2013 in New York with roll out to other cities.
Running Time: 108 mins.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving sexuality, brief strong language and smoking
Parents Advisory: Advisory for content
Location: Various locations in Canada
Language: English
Production Company: National Film Board of Canada
Distribution Company: Roadside Attractions

If You Like This Documentary, You May Also Like:

In The Matter of Cha Jung Hee
The Beaches of Agnes (Les Plages d’)
Unmistaken Child
Traces of the Trade
Order of Myths
Moving Midway
Which Way Home
In The Footsteps of Marco Polo

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