Last week The Cape Breton Island Film Series whisked us off to Greece, for wine and conversation and hopefully a moment of honesty with ourselves, about where we really are and what we’re not saying out loud. It’s important to check in like that, even when it means checking out. If you missed Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, you should probably just hop a plane to Paris and see if you can run into it.
This week we come home, as the CBIFS presents Stories We Tell, a documentary by filmmaker and Canadian icon-in-the-making Sarah Polley.
If nothing else, you can’t help but remember Polley as Sara Stanley from Road to Avonlea. Even if you hated the show, and you probably did, you still know what I’m talking about, because it was always effing on. It was one of those things you couldn’t escape as a Canadian, like chapped lips and French class. Sarah—I feel like I can call her Sarah now—was a part of our family. And like family, whether you loved or hated her, you simply accepted her, because she was there.
Sarah went on to an impressive film career, and if you missed her in the devastating The Sweet Hereafter, you might have caught a peek of her through your hands when you watched the terrifying remake of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Again, it seemed like she was everywhere. Only we were starting to appreciate it now. We were starting to look for her, at times even to follow her into new territory.
Now, as a filmmaker, Sarah has demanded our attention on a whole new level. Her first two films, Oscar-nominated Away From Her and Take This Waltz, demonstrate a maturity that is frankly humbling. Without a trace of pretension or hubris, she offers a fresh perspective on life, a new way of seeing, however quiet and unobtrusive. Without preaching or posturing, Sarah has the ability to observe, to show, to wonder. Her art is inviting you to see for yourself.
How appropriate, then, that her third film is a documentary that turns its gaze, unflinchingly, on Sarah’s own family. What most artists take a lifetime to expose, confront, and understand, while the rest never do, this 34-year-old filmmaker attacks head on, taking us along for every unexpected moment of her journey into the Polley family mythology.
To say too much of what will unfold, what Sarah will find in her quest for self-knowledge, what revelations will occur, would do us no good here. It is the telling of the story that fascinates. The plot, in all its thickening and contradiction, reveals itself through the various accounts of her candid family members. It is as fresh to her ears as it will be to ours, and it is that sensation of shock and awe, at our own muddling existence, that promises to excite and satisfy our thirsty young minds.
Don’t sell yourself short, either. We are all young on the path to self-discovery. Except maybe Sarah Polley, who seems to have grown up ten times faster than the rest of us, or else she has a time machine, or else she is an alien.
Whatever it is, I am looking forward to getting to know her better, and I expect in the process I’ll come out knowing myself a bit better, too.
Another exciting week at the Cape Breton Island Film Series, hope to see you there! Stories We Tell plays this Thursday at 7pm, at Empire Theatres Studio Ten.