Exploring Family Narratives in “Stories We Tell”

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Exploring Family Narratives in “Stories We Tell”

Anna Vandergriff

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“Can you describe the whole story in your own words?” is Sarah Polley’s opening question in her new documentary, “Stories We Tell.” It is a simple enough question, but its answer requires the telling a story that took place over the course of about 20 years. “Tell the story from the beginning until now,” Polley continues. Polley asked all of her interview subjects or “storytellers” to tell the story of Polley’s mother, Diane, and their relationship with her. Obviously overwhelmed, they do not know where to begin, and as they start talking a whole new story begins to evolve; a story that has changed over time, and like most stories, changes each time that it is told.

Her film proves that interesting narratives can be found in the most seemingly ordinary places, like a family. Polley said that she was always curious about stories of the past and how people tell them. She recorded her family’s story without the original intention of showing the film to the public.

Polley cuts between interviews with old home videos showing her family, but also actors portraying her parents and reenacting stories that the interview subject are telling, with the audio from the interview often synching up with the reenactment.

As the film progresses, you continually learn more about Diane through others’ stories of her. Everyone has their own opinion and experience with her, so a new truth begins to evolve. Polley makes the point that the truth is often difficult to pin down or find within a story and it all depends on the way we remember things; there is no right or wrong.

“Stories We Tell,” was very different compared to other documentaries that I’ve seen before, particularly due to the reenactments based on the stories that people told. Often times the reenactments would change, depending on who was telling the story and the details they remembered or left out. Overall I thought that the reenactments were effective. However, I found it misleading because until the end of the film it was not clear that they were reenactments.

I found this film to be both thoughtful and powerful. It caused me to reflect on the stories that each person would be able to tell if given the opportunity.

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