Tabloids, gossip and reality television indicates how much our society enjoys prying into other people’s lives. These many different manifestations of voyeurism vary in degree of credentials as it seems we’ve grown exhausted of shows featured on Slice (formerly Life) and Much Music. For good reason, documentaries haven’t lost their credentials; a documentary is the art worlds way of capturing history, making observations and teaching others in an often accessible fashion. Toronto has both its own documentary festival titled Hot Docs and a theatre dedicated to screening documentaries – two great gems worthy of the one and a half hour trip into the big city from Guelph.
I spent a good chunk of the last six years living in Toronto, a set for many films and turns into a star-studded environment a few times each year with the coming of the TIFF and music festival, NXNE. While these attractions come and go, Toronto has its share of longstanding famous residents. For instance, both Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling were voted best local female and male actors respectively to Now magazine’s Best of Toronto issue. Auteur Sarah Polley, a finalist in the rat race is madly in love with Toronto and is the true winner, in my opinion. Born and raised in the city, the thirty-three year-old auteur got her start in the CBC program Road to Avonlea. She slowly built a higher profile reputation in films like Go, Dawn of the Dead and Splice. Meanwhile, she wrote and directed her own works – Away From Her, Take This Waltz and her latest feature Stories We Tell. Amongst the buzz, Polley has always resided in Toronto. For the few precious years I myself resided in Toronto, I often saw Polley doing regular people things around the city such as riding the streetcar or shopping at the local Kensington Market grocer. With each time I crossed paths with this Canadian gem, my heart fluttered.
Polley’s latest Stories We Tell is an interesting take on a documentary-style film. I appreciate documentaries that do not coddle the audience by telling them too much; this documentary eloquently shares stories from many different people that Polley does not once acknowledge as her family, but you know from their appearance and comfortable humour that they are related.
Its pastiche nature weaves together a number of memories through both home movies, interviews and a very delicate story style account that was written by her father. This account was read throughout the entire film to serve as the narrative for the interviews she conducted and home movies she showed.
I’ve read countless reviews that spoil the ending I however won’t ruin your experience in my account here. I will however gush that Polley, beyond being a thoughtful and brilliant actor, director and writer, has created a simple feature that will make you think. While this documentary pries deep into the Polley family history in a revealing and invasive fashion, many intricacies of family, history and gender roles are touched upon.
The film is bookended by two lovely contemporary tunes that are dear to me. The first tune played in the film was “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver which caught me off guard as it wasn’t suggested in the film’s trailer. The tune that was used in the trailer and at the end of the film was the hauntingly eerie tune “Demon Host” by Toronto artist Timber Timbre.