Beautiful, brave & touching family storytelling in Stories We Tell

I was very happy to finally get to see Sarah Polley’s film Stories We Tell at the Varsity yesterday afternoon. And, like the real-life storytelling in the film, there will be different variations from those who attended the same screening as to what they saw and what they took away from seeing the film. Here’s mine:

Written or verbal storytelling – even of real-life stories – is filtered through the storyteller, so the same story is never told exactly the same way twice. Details or moments may stand out for one storyteller, to varying degrees, and some may have pieces of the story that others had not witnessed or noticed. In addition to including voice-overs of personal correspondence, family footage and re-enactment scenes (some done with actors), Polley interviews family friends, siblings, the dad she grew up with (Michael Polley), and her birth dad (no spoiler here) and his family, all adding pieces to the puzzle of her examination of how the story of the secret of her birth is told – from the family jokes that Michael wasn’t her dad, to her subsequent investigation, discovery and revelation of her actual birth father. And just as interesting is the exploration of the personality and life of her mother Diane, who died when Polley was 11 years old.

Some of my favourite scenes involve Polley and Michael in the sound studio, with Michael doing the voice recording – while being filmed – reading a piece (part letter, part memoir) he wrote shortly after she told him about finding and meeting her birth father. These scenes are both hysterically funny and extremely touching at the same time – the camera shifting between Polley and Michael – and tears come to my eyes again as I recall the love I saw on the screen. Love and such good humour in the face of such a difficult revelation.

There’s a lot we can learn about a person by hearing what others have to say about him/her and, although she’s no longer with us, we get a glimpse of Diane Polley – albeit mostly second-hand – from descriptions and stories told by those who loved her. Although, again, like all storytelling, any description of an individual personality will be filtered through the eyes – like the lens – of the storyteller. For me, this was also an exploration of a mother the filmmaker didn’t know for very long, relying on others to fill in the blanks of that narrative. It’s clear that Diane was a vivacious woman, a big, fun personality who was loved a lot by her family and friends. Again, told with love, respect and understanding – and even forgiveness – we see Diane’s story too, running in parallel with Polley’s exploration of her own story.

A beautiful, brave and touching film, Stories We Tell shows us the discomfort, pain and humour of this very personal family story, with re-enactment scenes so skillfully shot and edited into the narrative – sometimes with actors playing the family – that we feel like we’re seeing more footage from the family’s personal archive or, in some cases, getting a fly-on-the-wall point of view of some extremely private moments, which also include some quiet, reflective shots of Polley in the background on set. And like all good storytelling, the personal becomes universal in that we can all relate somehow – and laugh and cry and feel surprised as the story unfolds.

Stories We Tell continues its run in Toronto at the Varsity this week. Go see this. Here’s the trailer:

Shouts – some great events & gigs this week

Hey kids – happy Hump Day! Wanted to shout out some great arts events and music gigs happening in Toronto this week:

Tonight (Wednesday, October 10): Sarah Polley’s documentary Stories We Tell will be screening in support of the Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation of Toronto, with proceeds going to the Mount Sinai Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. There will be a chat with Sarah afterwards! Check here for details:

Also tonight: Craig Stickland and his band play a gig at the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen St. W.); doors at 9 p.m. – $10 cover. You can find Craig here:

Also tonight: Angela Saini plays at the Great Hall (1087 Queen St. W.) for the Girls Who Believe event; 8 p.m. – advance tickets $15. Check out Angela here:

Thursday, October 11: The Beautiful and the Damned, hosted by Lizzie Violet – with features Duncan Armstrong, Monica Kuebler and L’rock, as well as open mic performances –  at Glad Day Bookshop (598 Yonge St. – upstairs); 7 – 10 p.m.

Friday, October 12: Angela Saini plays another gig this week, this time at The Peacok (365 King St. W. Toronto) as part of an Indie Week Showcase; 9 p.m.

Also on Friday, October 12: Stories We Tell opens in Toronto. Check movie listings for locations/times.

TIFF 2012

Can’t forget the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which opens on September 6 and runs until September 16. I seldom get out to this, since I’m usually pretty booked up in September – especially with theatre-related stuff – and often I’m working on a show (which I am, but not till a bit later this month – more on that soon).

Two movies that caught my attention this year:

The Lesser Blessed (based on a novel by Richard Van Camp, adapted & directed by Anita Doron):

Here’s an interview with the three young stars of the film, courtesy of Spartan Youth Radio:

Stories We Tell (personal documentary by Sarah Polley):

Here’s the trailer:

I was able to get a ticket for The Lesser Blessed for this Sunday’s opening screening, but not quick enough to score one for Stories We Tell – so I’ll be looking for that film’s release after the fest.

For more info on film programming, scheduling and tickets, visit the TIFF website:

What are you seeing at TIFF?

The shifting dance of love, relationships & desire – Take This Waltz

It’s been a while since I’ve been to the movies, so when I found myself with some free time on Sunday, I veered away from summer action hero blockbusters, drawn to something more quiet, intimate and moving. And that was Sarah Polley’s film Take This Waltz.

Beautifully written (Polley wrote and directed), shot and acted, Take This Waltz is an up close and personal look at the shifts of love, relationships and desire. Margot (Michelle Williams) meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) during a work-related trip and the connection is immediate. But Margot is married to Lou (Seth Rogen). Turns out, Daniel lives across the street. Margot and Lou have a close, playful relationship and Margot loves him and his family, in particular her sister-in-law Geraldine and her niece Tony. But Margot is feeling like there’s something missing. And Margot and Daniel can’t stop thinking about each other.

What struck me first about this film was the quality of the light and colour:  golden light and gorgeous primaries and secondaries, both in the set and costumes, as well as a lovely retro feel – the old century home apartments, the vintage dresses, the Scrambler amusement park ride in a disco setting. But above all, the view we get is extremely intimate, from the close-ups where we see emotions play to conversations (one in a women’s shower room) to scenes of desire expressed (with words and with bodies).

Polley has a lovely cast: Williams’ Margot is vulnerable, searching and sensuous, Rogen gives a sweet, playful and hesitant feel to Lou, while Kirby’s Daniel is dreamy, puck-ish and sexy, and Silverman’s Geraldine is tough on the outside, but extremely fragile with a great irreverent sense of humour. And Lost Girl and Republic of Doyle fans will recognize Graham Abbey, who plays Geraldine’s lovely, supportive husband James.

Thematically, Take This Waltz made me think about the nature of relationships – and how no matter how much you may love someone and want to grow old with them, relationships are organic – and therefore changing – things. At what point does the nature of a relationship outside of marriage become cheating? The age-old question of what makes for love and desire – and how one tells them apart – is turned over and around. And, as Geraldine says: “Life has a gap in it… it just does. You don’t go crazy trying to fill it.” Of course, the question then becomes where is the gap located? In the relationship, in our loved one or in ourselves?

Here’s the trailer. Go see this.