Canadian actor/director Sarah Polley explores her own family history in her new film, "Stories We Tell," including the painful revelation that she is the product of an affair.
Polley kept the secret that is finally revealed in the film, from everyone but close family and friends until today's screening of the documentary at the Venice Film Festival.
She has decided not to do any press for the film but instead wrote about the story behind it, in her own words, on the National Film Board of Canada website.
The filmmaker says, "In 2007 I was on set in Montreal, shooting a scene for the film Mr. Nobody. I received a phone call from a friend warning me that a journalist had found out a piece of information about my life that I had kept a secret for a year. I got in touch with the journalist and begged him not to print the story. It was a story that I had kept secret from many people in my life including my father. It took some time and many tears to convince the journalist not to print the story within the week, but I left that conversation convinced that it was not a secret I could keep for long, and that if I wanted the people in my life and outside my life to know the story in my own words, I would have to take action." And that's exactly what she did. She says the first thing she had to do was to tell her father the news that "he was not my biological father." She says she had confirmed who her real father is after a DNA test with the man she had met the year before.
She writes, "my father’s response to this staggering piece of news was extraordinary. He has always been a man who responds to things in unusual ways, for better or for worse. He was shocked, but not angry. His chief concern, almost immediately, was that my siblings and I not put any blame on my mother for her straying outside of their marriage. He was candid about his own lack of responsiveness towards her and how that may have led her to the point where she sought out the affection of another person. And then he began to write. And write and write and write."
In fact, Polley says not only did her father write about his marriage to her mother, who died when Polley was 11, about her affair and his relationship with the woman he thought was his daughter, but her biological father also wrote about the story in his own words. "Each of us had a deep and growing need to tell the story, different parts of it, in different ways, with emphasis on different details, in a way that reflected our own experience and what was most important to us as we are now."
The 33-year old is well known to Canadian audiences, for her role on the TV series, Road to Avonlea and has won numerous acting and directing awards around the world during her prolific career. But she says, making Stories We Tell, " was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It took five years and tormented me. I didn’t want to make it, and I wanted to give up many times along the way, but I also didn’t want this story to be out there in the words of someone other than the many people who lived it. Now it will be written about in many other people’s words, and I’m finally at peace with that."
The film will make it's North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, Friday, September 7.