Tanner Reviews Stories We Tell

Stories_We_Tell_posterBefore we get into this review, I would like to thank the Grandin Theatre of Roanoke Virginia for being so good to me during my time here. With the exception of my Hangover Part III review, every film review of movies released this year I have seen at the Grandin (and I didn’t see Hangover Part III there because Grandin Theatre has too much dignity to allow that to enter their doors). If it wasn’t for them, I would not have been able to see this documentary Stories We Tell, a multi award winning film that has received acclaim at the 69th Venice International Film Festival, the 39th Telluride Film Festival, and the 37th Toronto Film Festival where the majority of the documentary was created.

(Minor Spoilers in following paragraph)

The story is of director Sarah Polley as it looks at the life of her and her family. In particular with her parent’s relationship, marriage, and her coming to terms with the fact that she was created out of an extramarital affair with Canadian Film and Theater Producer Harry Gulkin. The film switches in between interviews with Polley’s family and friends, a narration given by Michael Polley, and footage created with a Super 8 camera to give the appearance of home videos being made of the Polley family.

While my area of expertise is in the realms of films with three act structures and video games, I feel that I am more than capable of taking a look at this documentary and giving an honest critical opinion.


Camera Work is Nothing Short of a Masterpiece

The film is very well shot, cutting in between interviews to the Super 8 recreated footage is very smart. I’ll be honest until I saw the cast of characters during the credit roll, I was under the assumption that the Super 8 footage was actual home video. The actors are phenomenal and are able to present footage that looks and feels like home movies.

The way the film is edited is very well done, keeping your attention with  cuts between the Super 8 footage as well as the interviews and reactions of the friends, family, and especially the very few moments when the camera cuts to Sarah Polley’s reactions to her father’s narration in the sound studio.

The Story is Gripping and Suspenseful

I have seen few documentaries that are able to keep you in suspense throughout the film. There are moments in the screening where the few people in the room with me gasped at the reveals and plot turns. It truly is an experience to follow Sarah Polley’s journey as she discovers the secrets of her past and just who her parents were.

The life of Sarah’s mother, Diane is one of real intrigue as it shows the true love for her husband as well as her family and her kids, but as well her love for a very fast and exciting life style. The conflict within Diane’s life between her quiet life as a mother with an introverted husband and her desire to go out and dance and party is the driving force behind the documentary and is what seems to mold Sarah’s life as she was created from her mother’s very fast and rambunctious living.

Her father is a very interesting character, this man who seemed to be aware of the relationships that his wife was having with these different men, yet still loved his wife dearly and loved his family. In interviews you can see his sad demeanor when talking about his wife, her lovers, and her death. But can see a true joy that is still in him from her memory and the legacy that she left behind.

I have seen few three act movies that can run the gamut of so many emotions that this film achieves. It is a very suspenseful and dramatic watch.


The Motivation Behind The Making of the Film

The film even brings this up in the beginning when one of the daughters of Michael Polley and sister of Sarah Polley states, “I don’t know why people would want to watch a story about our family.” In truth I think this is a question that should be asked. Yes, I have stated above that I think the story is very dramatic, gripping, and suspenseful. But still, this isn’t anything new or really all that uncommon. There are several relationships that have suffered from extramarital affairs and babies being born when the parent was not involved in the marriage. These children born from these affairs do need to cope with this fact. So why is it that Sarah Polley’s story so special?

Well to be perfectly honest, it really is not that special. These types of relationships have happened before and in many different walks of life. It does contain a bit of a more ‘eclectic’ cast of characters as well as more influential characters within the Canadian film scene, but still the only real reason this story was told on screen and others were not was Polley had the pull to get the film produced and created.

It Can Get Boring

There are moments where this film will drag its heels if you are not ready for what you are about to watch. While the story did keep my attention and it was very suspenseful and gripping at parts it was a slow watch. The 104 minute film felt like it was close to two and a half hours. The story is slow and cerebral in its presentation, but if you are not in the right mind-set for the documentary then you will find yourself looking at your watch or phone every thirty minutes.


Overall the film is a very successful and gripping story of a family’s relationship with each other as well as their relationship after the revelation of their mother’s extramarital affairs and the fact that Sarah was a result of those extramarital affairs.

Yes the film can feel a little long but that is just a minor hiccup in what is a very enjoyable watch.

Final Score 3/5

Thank you for reading. As always if you enjoyed this review, please like and subscribe for more and follow me on twitter @TannerReviews. Please come back Tuesday when I tackle the second film I have Grandin Theatre to personally thank for the viewing, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. 

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