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Stories We Tell

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Stories We Tell
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySarah Polley
Written bySarah Polley
Produced byAnita Lee
Silva Basmajian
StarringRebecca Jenkins
CinematographyIris Ng
Edited byMike Munn
Music byJonathan Goldsmith
Distributed byMongrel Media
Release dates
  • August 29, 2012 (2012-08-29) (Venice)
  • October 12, 2012 (2012-10-12) (Canada)
Running time
109 minutes[1]
Box office$1.3 million[2]

Stories We Tell is a 2012 Canadian documentary film written and directed by Sarah Polley and produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). The film explores her family's secrets—including one intimately related to Polley's own identity. Stories We Tell premiered August 29, 2012 at the 69th Venice International Film Festival, then played at the 39th Telluride Film Festival and the 37th Toronto International Film Festival.[3][4][5][6][7] In 2015, it was added to the Toronto International Film Festival's list of the top 10 Canadian films of all time, at number 10.[8] It was also named the 70th greatest film since 2000 in a 2016 critics' poll by BBC.[9]


The film looks at the relationship between Polley's parents, Michael and Diane Polley, including the revelation that the filmmaker was the product of an extramarital affair between her mother and Montreal producer Harry Gulkin.[10] It incorporates interviews with Polley's siblings from her mother's two marriages, interviews with other relatives and family friends, Michael Polley's narration of his memoir, and Super-8 footage shot to look like home movies of historical events in her family's life. The faux home video footage appears exceptionally authentic due to the "canny casting" of the characters.[11] The cast in the Super-8 re-creations includes Rebecca Jenkins as Diane, who had died of cancer on January 10, 1990, the week of Polley's 11th birthday.[5][11] Polley began work five years before completing the documentary, taking many breaks in between.

In her blog post on the NFB.ca website, Polley reveals that several journalists, including Brian D. Johnson and Matthew Hays, had known about the story of her biological father for years, but respected Polley's wish to keep the matter private until she was ready to tell her story in her own words.[12]

Critical response[edit]

In his August 29 Maclean's blog post, Johnson, one of the film critics who had kept Polley's secret, wrote:

Now that I've seen her documentary, which premieres in Venice next Wednesday, I'm glad I didn't spill the beans. It's a brilliant film: an enthralling, exquisitely layered masterpiece of memoir that unravels an extraordinary world of family secrets through a maze of interviews, home movies, and faux home movies cast with actors.[13]

Writing for RogerEbert.com, film critic Sheila O'Malley gave the film four out of four stars, calling it "[a] powerful and thoughtful film...[that] is also not what it at first seems, which is part of the point Polley appears to be interested in making."[14]

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 94% based on 147 reviews, with an average rating of 8.6/10. The website's critical consensus states "In Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley plays with the documentary format to explore the nature of memory and storytelling, crafting a thoughtful, compelling narrative that unfolds like a mystery."[15]


On October 20, Stories We Tell received the Grand Prix Focus for best feature film in the Festival du nouveau cinéma's Focus category.[16] In December, the film was included in the Toronto International Film Festival's list of "Canada's Top Ten" feature films of 2012.[17][18] In 2015, it was added to the festival's list of the top 10 Canadian films of all time at number 10.[8]

On January 8, 2013, Stories We Tell received the $100,000 prize for best Canadian film at the Toronto Film Critics Association Awards,[19] after having been named best documentary by the association the previous month. On March 3, 2013, it was named best feature-length documentary at the 1st Canadian Screen Awards.[20] In October 2013, Stories We Tell received the Allan King Award for Excellence in Documentary at the Directors Guild of Canada Awards in Toronto.[21] In December 2013, the film received the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Non-Fiction Film, the National Board of Review Award for Best Documentary Film, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Documentary Film.[22][23] On February 1, 2014, the film received the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Documentary Screenplay.[24]

Stories We Tell was nominated for a 2013 Cinema Eye Honors award and a 2013 International Documentary Association award.[25][26] It was among the 15 films shortlisted for the 2013 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.[27]

Theatrical release[edit]

Stories We Tell was released theatrically in Canada starting October 12, 2012. The film had a limited release in the U.S. beginning May 17, 2013.[28]


  1. ^ "STORIES WE TELL (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 2013-05-21. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
  2. ^ Stories We Tell at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ Leong, Melissa (29 August 2012). "Sarah Polley's new film, Stories We Tell, reveals family secret". National Post. Archived from the original on 30 January 2013. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  4. ^ "Sarah Polley reveals secrets behind Stories We Tell". CBC News. 29 August 2012. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  5. ^ a b Adam Benzine (23 July 2012). "Exclusive: TIFF to host Polley's "Stories," Kastner's "Disco"". Realscreen. Retrieved 10 September 2012.
  6. ^ Couch, Aaron (29 August 2012). "Toronto 2012: Sarah Polley's 'Stories We Tell' Trailer Teases Poignant Personal Tale". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  7. ^ Fernandez, Jay A. (30 August 2012). "Michael Winterbottom, Noah Baumbach, Sally Potter, Sarah Polley & Ramin Bahrani Lead 39th Telluride Film Festival Program". Indiewire. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  8. ^ a b "Atanarjuat voted No. 1 Canadian film of all time". CBC News. 24 April 2015. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  9. ^ "The 21st Century's 100 greatest films". BBC. August 23, 2016. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  10. ^ Howell, Peter (5 October 2012). "Sarah Polley doc Stories We Tell: When blood is thicker than gossip". Toronto Star. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  11. ^ a b Lodge, Guy (30 August 2012). "Stories We Tell". Variety. Reed Business Information. Retrieved 13 October 2012.
  12. ^ Polley, Sarah. "Stories We Tell: A post by Sarah Polley". NFB.ca blog. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  13. ^ Johnson, Brian D. (29 August 2012). "Protecting Sarah Polley's secret". Maclean's blog. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  14. ^ "Stories We Tell Movie Review & Film Summary (2012) | Roger Ebert". rogerebert.com. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  15. ^ "Stories We Tell". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 30 September 2021.
  16. ^ "La Louve d'or au film Ici et là-bas". Canoe.ca (in French). Montreal. 20 October 2012. Archived from the original on January 15, 2013. Retrieved 1 November 2012.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  17. ^ "Polley, Cronenberg, Mehta films named to Canada's Top Ten". CBC. 2012-12-04. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  18. ^ "Canada's Top Ten Toasts the Nation's Best Films of 2012: Cronenberg, Polley, Nguyen and Mehta Among Filmmakers Recognized" (PDF) (Press release). TIFF. 2012-12-04. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 December 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  19. ^ "Sarah Polley doc wins Toronto critics' $100K prize". CBC News. 8 January 2013. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
  20. ^ Cassandra Szklarski, "Oscar-nominated 'Rebelle' triumphant at Canadian Screen Awards". Canadian Press, March 3, 2013.
  21. ^ Walsh, Barry (28 October 2013). ""Stories We Tell" takes DGC doc award". Realscreen. Brunico Communications. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
  22. ^ Szklarski, Cassandra (5 December 2013). "Sarah Polley's intimate family tale Stories We Tell gets a PR push for the Oscars". The Canadian Press. Montreal Gazette. Archived from the original on 12 December 2013. Retrieved 8 December 2013.
  23. ^ Feinberg, Scott (9 December 2013). "Who Was Helped (and Who Wasn't) by Week's Slew of Awards Announcements (Analysis)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 9 December 2013.
  24. ^ "Sarah Polley's 'Stories We Tell' wins Writers Guild award". CTV News. Associated Press. 2 February 2014. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  25. ^ "Cinema Eye Honors Announces Nominees for 7th Annual Nonfiction Film Awards". Cinema Eye. 5 November 2013. Retrieved 28 November 2013.
  26. ^ "29th Annual IDA Documentary Awards". International Documentary Association. 29 October 2013. Retrieved 28 November 2013.
  27. ^ "2014 Oscars Best Documentary Short List Revealed". 3 December 2013. Retrieved 26 January 2014.
  28. ^ "Film Release Chart 5/10/2013 - 8/2/2013". Variety. Retrieved 12 May 2013.

External links[edit]