Stories We Tell Sarah Polley

Stories We Tell Sarah Polley
9
Documentaries are often seen as troves of facts and figures, outlining a particular topic and chronicling its path through history, either conveying a viewpoint or framing a story. Rarely is the medium capable of captivating viewers in the same manner as a fictional dramatic feature, either adhering to the dominant format of the genre or straining to draw the parallels, metaphors and climactic arc that made up stories are capable of. These are some of the challenges documentary filmmakers face and only a handful have managed to triumph. Sarah Polley has managed to be one of the few with her debut to the doc genre, Stories We Tell. The basic concept of her film is deceptively simple, sharing the story of Polley's family—her parents, her siblings, her half-siblings from her mother's first marriage—recounting prosaic moments they've shared that are universally relatable. The story veers off on an unexpected path as Polley discovers she isn't her father's daughter, which is mired in uncertainty as her mother has since passed on and she is left to find the truth on her own. The premise soon shifts from a tale of an extended family to that of an examination of the versions of a story each member of a family devises, revealing that we're all unreliable narrators of our own histories. The truth is fleeting, constantly twisted depending on who is sharing it, re-evaluated constantly as something in permanent flux. Polley's storytelling here is superb, not only using a series of talking heads and traditional sit-down interviews but also using Super-8 archival footage during key events through the family's history. While archival footage can occasionally draw away from the story itself, in the case of Stories We Tell they're entirely fluid and manage to propel the dramatic tale as it unfolds. Most incredible is that much of the archival footage is actually staged reenactment using believable look-alike actors. Seeping with emotion and packed with an incredibly touching climax, the final package is proof that Polley's skills as a filmmaker continue to get stronger with each project she takes on. Unfortunately there are no extras included on the DVD; although, to be fair, Polley left little to discuss that wasn't already covered in her film. (Mongrel Media)