Canadian Women Film Directors Database
home search browse about contact français

Quick search by surname

Stories We Tell

Directed by Sarah Polley
Canada, 2012 (documentary, 109 minutes, colour / black and white, English)
Also known as "Apáim története", "Histórias que Contamos", "Historie rodzinne", "Les histoires qu'on raconte"
Stories We Tell
Image: © National Film Board of Canada

Film Description:
"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."
-- National Film Board of Canada (source)

Film Credits (partial):
Written by: Sarah Polley
Produced by: Anita Lee, Silva Basmajian
Principal Cast: Rebecca Jenkins, Peter Evans, Alex Hatz, Justin Goodhand, Seamus Morrison, Allie MacDonald, Lani Billard, Andrew Church, Dave Kiner, Jef Mallory, Kristen Corvers, Christine Horne, Jeanie Calleja, James Downing, Tracey Ferencz, Eric Hanson, Kaylin Griffin, Mairtin O'Carrigan, Thomas Hauff
Participants: Michael Polley, Harry Gulkin, Susy Buchan, John Buchan, Mark Polley, Joanna Polley, Cathy Gulkin, Marie Murphy, Robert MacMillan, Anne Tait, Deirdre Bowen, Victoria Mitchell, Mort Ransen, Geoffrey Bowes, Tom Butler, Pixie Bigelow, Claire Walker
Cinematography: Iris Ng
Film Editing: Michael Munn
Production Company: National Film Board of Canada / Office national du film du Canada
Additional Credits: Narration writer [auteur de la narration]: Michael Polley

Awards won by Stories We Tell

Notes about Stories We Tell


Quotes by the Director

"I think I like documentaries more than anything else, but I struggle with the ethical stuff, the manipulation and portraying people in a way that becomes permanent in the minds of people they don't know, having that kind of control over how people are perceived. In one way it was harder with this film [Stories We Tell] because it was my family, but also the stakes were also so high I could trust myself to be making ethical decisions."
-- Sarah Polley (source)

"I wanted to share my experience of hearing the different versions and the way they were converging and diverging. And to let the audience have the experience of being the observer—being me."
-- Sarah Polley (source)

"Stories We Tell is the film I made that I'm proudest of, because I feel like I wasn't trying to make it like anything I'd seen before—I was sort of trying to let it invent itself. What I've realized is that when you're doing something that isn't derivative, you're going to feel completely lost and completely at odds with yourself. You're going to be without confidence through the entire process, because there's nothing you can look to that's gonna make you feel better or like you know what the goal is. I've learned to actively look for that feeling of being overwhelmed and lost a little bit, and to know that—if you come out of that alive—you might end up with something you're proud of."
-- Sarah Polley (source)

"The process of watching a story take on a life of its own, mutate, and change in so many other people's words fascinated me. And as the story was told, or perhaps because the story was told—it changed. So I decided to make a film about our need to tell stories, to own our stories, to understand them, and to have them heard."
-- Sarah Polley (source)

"The story [for Take This Waltz] sort of came out of nowhere, I didn't know why I was writing it, and then I think it was halfway through making this film [Stories We Tell] that I kind of got it and I went, 'I think this is the film I've been making over and over again.' [...] And not just Take This Waltz but every short film I've made and Away from Her—it's always about a long-term relationship, an infidelity and in many ways how the man kind of absorbs that. [...] I think a lot of filmmakers make the same film over and over again without knowing it. It's just that now I've gone into the cave and made a film about the actual figures in the cave that were casting these shadows."
-- Sarah Polley (source)

Quotes by the Director [in French]

"J'ai été estomaquée de constater que ce petit film sur mon histoire familiale pouvait intéresser les gens et les toucher de cette façon. Je crois que les spectateurs pensent à leur propre famille en regardant ce film. Et s'identifient d'une manière ou d'une autre à mon histoire. Pour ma part, il y a fort à parier que je ne pourrai jamais réaliser un autre film qui résonnera en moi de façon aussi personnelle."
-- Sarah Polley (source)

"J'aime toujours me placer à la frontière du vrai et du faux. Je cherchais aussi à mélanger les notions de narration, de mémoire et de vérité tout en jouant sur la forme et la structure. C'est surtout un film sur la manière de raconter des histoires, et du besoin que nous avons tous de les exprimer."
-- Sarah Polley (source)

Quotes about Stories We Tell

"Polley tackles painful issues with candour and tact. She has a gripping tale to tell. It's a film that raises questions about the ownership of memory and ownership of narrative."
-- Peter Bradshaw (source)

"[Sarah] Polley does not speak directly in the film; in Stories We Tell, the voice-overs [...] both reveal and conceal the filmmaker. [..] [This] is achieved by giving the primary voice-over to her father, in which Polley then features only in the third person and, very interestingly, sometimes in the second person. When the 'I' of the filmmaker does speak in voice-over in Stories We Tell, Polley is not doing so directly but rather creates a temporal and modal buffer by reading emails she wrote in the past."
-- Sarah Dillon (source)

"The title [Stories We Tell] may appear blandly noncommittal at first glance, but proves more telling as it becomes clear that [Sarah] Polley is less concerned with family history than with family narratives, and how oft-repeated untruths and assumptions can distort or even fabricate memories. Similarly, Polley's own storytelling is deceptively artful in its orchestration: What seems a happy shuffle of freeform talking-head interviews is actually sequenced into a startling series of reveals. Meanwhile, through canny casting and filming, apparent homevideo footage emerges as wistful reconstruction, as the director underlines the pliability and artifice of all her contributors' recollections—her own included."
-- Guy Lodge (source)

"In this sequence, [Sarah] Polley's mother Diane is happy and standing on Wallace Avenue Footbridge. The challenges of trying to determine if this is archival footage or a Super-8 recreation with Rebecca Jenkins playing Diane mirror and foreground those of telling a family story which, as Stories We Tell reveals, is constantly shaped by the narrator, his or her personal feelings and the distortion of memory."
-- Tom Ue (source)

Quote about Stories We Tell [in French]

"On prendra [...] intérêt à suivre les témoignages de tous les proches et de tous les intervenants de l'histoire. Il en ressort une authenticité tangible. Sans jamais s'épancher, sans jamais, non plus, s'appuyer sur des effets dramatiques, avec humour aussi parfois, Sarah Polley propose un film étonnant, universel en ce qu'il force le spectateur à se ramener à sa propre histoire. Elle ne pouvait faire plus beaux portraits de famille."
-- Marc-André Lussier (source)

Publications by the Director about Stories We Tell

Bibliography for Stories We Tell

Book Chapters

Brief Sections of Books

Articles from Newspapers, Magazines, or News Websites

Web Sites about Stories We Tell

home search browse about contact français