With Toronto beckoning, I've had to bid a reluctant farewell to Venice where, as much as I liked “BAD 25”, “The Iceman”, “Disconnect”, “Enzo Avitabile Music Life” and “The Master”, my pick of the festival was undoubtedly “Stories We Tell”. Sarah Polley's third feature as a writer-director – and first non-fiction film – is revelatory in multiple ways, not least as a deeply exposing journey into the heart of the actress' family and own identity.
Splicing together “interrogations” with her siblings, father, family friends and relatives alongside Super-8 footage that features her late mother (who died when Polley was 11), both the real thing and scenarios she's recreated with a frolicsome lookalike, Polley unravels the story of how she came to find out that her biological father wasn't the man who raised her. That's a painful story for anyone to share, and Polley may have chosen not to had her hand not been forced by a journalist who phoned her on the set of “Mr. Nobody” and told her he was about to go public. With one father still in the dark, she tearfully begged for a few days' reprieve – and ultimately decided to make “Stories We Tell” with the full participation of her two dads and the backing of the National Film Board of Canada.
The NFB and producer Anita Lee encouraged Polley to think outside the box, which she does with aplomb, incorporating herself into “Stories We Tell” both as subject and detached, objective observer trying to lay bare the truth through a multiplicity of perspectives. (“Say that again, Dad,” should be the film's funny catchphrase – it's what Polley keeps asking her British-born father to do as he reads from his own written account of events.)
Polley opted not to do any interviews in Venice (explaining her reasons in detail here: