When I was a kid we’d tramp on over to my grandparent’s place every Sunday to watch Road to Avonlea—a tradition as cheesy as the programme itself, I know. Sometimes we’d stay late to watch the Disney movie after but usually I’d be asleep by then, thumb in mouth, dreams of P.E.I. and Sarah Stanley swirling in my head.
Sarah Polley played the role of the girl I thought was so cool when I was a kid (Sarah Stanley—I have to remember not everyone knows the show). I have a non-logical, nostalgic attachment to Polley. She reminds me of my grandma, Cheez Whiz and naps under the chesterfield. I am biased and my nostalgia led me to watch and review Polley’s new film, Stories We Tell.
Only a family in the film business would sort their dirty laundry on-screen. Stories We Tell is a story about a documentary about the stories the Polley family and friends remember about Polley’s mother, Diane MacMillan. Or, at least, that’s how I saw it.
MacMillan died of cancer when Polley was 11. She was an actress, and she fell in love with Michael Polley, an actor, when she saw him performing. Michael Polley said he thought MacMillan never loved him; she fell in love with the roles he played. Super8 footage from the couple’s European honeymoon is testimony to Michael Polley’s distractions from his wife—the camera wandered above the MacMillan’s face to capture rooftops, distant ridges and cloud formations—they were many.
Polley is searching for truth in the film. Everyone’s life is a story, and, like the Margaret Atwood quote that the beginning of the film alludes to, the in-between moments are the ones that end up mythologized. Truth depends on everyone who is involved in a story’s recollection of the accumulation of in-between moments.
Truth contradicts itself. One of MacMillan’s friends remembers her as a woman without guile; she couldn’t keep a secret because she was too open. Her other friend recalls MacMillan as a woman who kept secrets. Neither woman is lying; their recollections mould the memory of MacMillan into a story with features, shadows, crooks and sharp turns.