Stories We Tell

Stories We Tell

Michael Polley and Sarah Polley in the studio in the documentary STORIES WE TELL, a film by Sarah Polley. Picture courtesy Roadside Attractions. All rights reserved.

Stories We Tell

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Stories We Tell (2013)

Opened: 05/10/2013 Limited

Angelika/NYC05/10/2013 - 07/11/201363 days
Lincoln Plaza05/10/2013 - 06/27/201349 days
Playhouse 705/17/2013 - 06/20/201335 days
Kendall Square...05/17/2013 - 06/13/201328 days
The Landmark05/17/2013 - 05/30/201314 days
NoHo 705/23/2013 - 05/30/20138 days
Town Center 505/24/2013 - 05/30/20137 days
Monica 405/24/2013 - 05/30/20137 days
Music Hall 306/28/2013 - 07/25/201328 days
Village East07/12/2013 - 07/25/201314 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Twitter, Facebook

Genre: Documentary

Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements involving sexuality, brief strong language and smoking.

Stories We Tell is an inspired, genre-twisting film by Oscar®-nominated director Sarah Polley, and produced by Anita Lee for the NFB. Her playful investigation into the elusive truth buried within the contradictions of a family of storytellers paints a profound portrait of a complicated and deeply loving family.


In this inspired, genre-twisting new film, Oscar®-nominated writer/director Sarah Polley discovers that the truth depends on who's telling it. Polley is both filmmaker and detective as she investigates the secrets kept by a family of storytellers. She playfully interviews and interrogates a cast of characters of varying reliability, eliciting refreshingly candid, yet mostly contradictory, answers to the same questions. As each relates their version of the family mythology, present-day recollections shift into nostalgia-tinged glimpses of their mother, who departed too soon, leaving a trail of unanswered questions. Polley unravels the paradoxes to reveal the essence of family: always complicated, warmly messy and fiercely loving. Stories We Tell explores the elusive nature of truth and memory, but at its core is a deeply personal film about how our narratives shape and define us as individuals and families, all interconnecting to paint a profound, funny and poignant picture of the larger human story.

About the Production

Stories We Tell: A new approach to storytelling

The choice of making this project with the National Film Board of Canada was deliberate because Polley wanted -- and was given -- the latitude to experiment.

When she first approached NFB Ontario Centre producer Anita Lee in 2008, the film's concept was undefined beyond the idea of simply exploring how families remember their own histories. The challenge was to approach the narrative in a manner that allowed Polley to investigate how and why there are typically so many varying accounts of a family's history.

"I think it's a universal thing in every family, that people have their own specific versions of pivotal events or even small memories," said Polley. "They are 100 percent certain that their recollections are the truth because whatever the truth is, as they recall it, has formed them and it is part of their history. Discrepancies in memory preoccupy families, and the idea of this fascinated me."

The absence of form was unusual for Polley; she is accustomed to the rigorous discipline of making fiction films. "With this film, I was slowly discovering what I was doing as I was making it. With each interview and each shoot, I was putting together what I ultimately wanted to do," said Polley. To arrive at this new mindset, Polley had to deconstruct the techniques she'd developed during her career--which has evolved from actress to screenwriter to director of feature films--and trust her instincts.

Choosing the film's point of view was a significant decision for Polley. "The role I play in this is the explorer and the filmmaker. That was key for me to be able to justify it to myself," she explained.

After starting development of Stories We Tell at the NFB, Polley joined the inaugural CFC/NFB Documentary Program--a unique laboratory for the development of successful documentaries that took place in the first half of 2009. "The Doc Lab at CFC was an amazing development process because I'd never made a film that wasn't fiction. I had three really experienced filmmakers who were in the lab with me, plus all these amazing mentors, like Wim Wenders and Kevin McMahon. It was an incredible environment for making your first documentary," she noted.

Working closely with Lee, as well as director of cinematography Iris Ng and editor Mike Munn, they divided up the editing sessions so that they could shoot for a few months, edit for several months, then shoot, then edit again. The film morphed into something completely different from the original idea, and Polley took her experimentation with tone, visuals and energy farther than she has ever gone before. It had a transformative impact on Polley herself: "I don't know how it has changed me, but I know it has. It is by far the hardest thing I have ever done and the most rewarding in terms of the result."

Stories We Tell is about looking back into the past, a perspective enhanced by the decision to shoot partially on Super 8. "The Super 8 film format is loaded," said Lee. "It already comes with this notion of nostalgia and the past. It's a medium of a certain time. We associate Super 8 with home movies lost in basements, and we literally searched through people's basements for the right Super 8 camera."

Sarah Polley: Filmmaking themes

Stories We Tell is Sarah Polley's third feature and seventh film. Lee has noted a distinct direction in her work. "Her signature is to look at relationships deeply and honestly in a microscopic way, and the emotional waves these relationships have on the people around them. A deep exploration of intimate relationships at different stages was at the core of I Shout Love, Away from Her and Take This Waltz, and now Stories We Tell takes this territory to a new level."

Stories We Tell combines Polley's fascination with relationships and her desire to experiment with storytelling in the hopes of revealing the many truths that exist simultaneously. "Since I was about 19 or 20, I've been thinking about these things, which is why every short film I've ever made, as well as Away from Her and Take This Waltz, are about long-term relationships," she said. "But if I have learned anything from making this film, it is that we can't all be right and we can't all be wrong. So we must be unintentionally distorting things to varying degrees in order to feed our own version of what we need the past and history to be, and in our way, we must all be telling the truth as well."

After taking a profound journey through memory, truth and revelation to create Stories We Tell, Polley has a better understanding of what makes a family. "Family is who you've had experiences with, who has been there for better or for worse."


Sarah Polley (Director) is a writer/director whose dramatic features include Away from Her (nominated in 2007 for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and winner of the 2008 Genie Awards for Best Motion Picture and Achievement in Direction) and Take This Waltz, starring Seth Rogen, Michelle Williams and Sarah Silverman. Stories We Tell is her most recent film.

Anita Lee (Producer) is a producer of award-winning films at the National Film Board of Canada. She has produced numerous documentary and dramatic features for theatrical release. Recent projects include the critically acclaimed film installation Road Movie by Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatzky (TIFF and Berlin 2011), Let the Daylight into the Swamp by Jeffrey St. Jules (TIFF 2012), Home Again by Sudz Sutherland (TIFF 2012), and Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley. In 1997, she founded the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival and continues to serve on their Advisory Board.

Silva Basmajian (Executive Producer) has produced more than 80 NFB films that have garnered numerous awards and been screened at international festivals, including Berlin, Toronto and Sundance. Ms. Basmajian is currently an Executive Producer at the NFB's Ontario Centre and champions projects that re-define documentary, such as the award-winning and ongoing HIGHRISE, a multi-year, multi-media, collaborative documentary project about the human experience in global vertical suburbs. Most recently, she co-produced the critically acclaimed and International Emmy-winning Life with Murder.

Mike Munn (Editor) began his career editing films for Bruce McDonald (Roadkill) and Peter Mettler (Tectonic Plates, Picture of Light). Recent credits include Metal: A Headbanger's Journey and Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, directed by Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen. Stories We Tell is Mike's second collaboration with Sarah Polley; he also edited "The Harp," an episode of The Shields Stories series that was directed by Polley.

Iris Ng (Director of Cinematography) has been collaborating with filmmakers and artists for over a decade. Her credits include Morgan Spurlock's Committed: The Toronto International Film Festival, Angad Singh Bhalla's Herman's House, Rama Rau's The Market, Min Sook Lee's My Toxic Baby and international art installation projects by Luis Jacob and Chris Curreri.