STORIES WE TELL is one of those movies where, the less you know about it, the better. The only thing I knew about this documentary before seeing it is that it was directed by Canadian actress Sarah Polley, who is probably best known for her role in the film THE SWEET HEREAFTER. I did not know that she came from a family of artists and actors. The fact that it was directed by an actor might have put me off initially for fear that this was a vanity project, but if anything, it is the opposite of that.
The film is nominated for an International Documentary Association Award, a Film Independent Spirit Award, and has made the short list of 15 Oscar films that will be eligible in the documentary category. If you like documentaries, I recommend you see this without reading any more. If you have not seen it, be aware that there be SPOILERS!!! below.
Ms. Polley uses the film to tell the story of her family. The process is very interesting as she tells it in a Rashomon-like manner, allowing multiple viewpoints of specific events even when they conflict with each other. Some of the subject matter is intensely personal to her and I am frankly shocked that she got so much on camera from family members and friends about such intimate details. There are a couple of confusing moments where she leaps back in time and then forward again, but otherwise the filmmaking style is excellent.
The film makes extensive use of recreations, which I normally detest, but in this case it makes a lot of sense. There is a tremendous amount of real footage of her mother and other people on what appears to be Super 8 and 16mm, and the recreations are intermingled in an incredibly seamless fashion. I suspected they were recreations but she herself reveals this to the audience at the end of the film by showing the current family members alongside the actors who recreated the flashbacks in earlier scenes. This use of recreations is masterful, as it ties in well with one theme of the movie, that we can never know the empirical truth, instead, we only have the stories we tell ourselves about what might have happened. In essence, even a documentary can never tell you with 100% certainty what happened.
It's a very smart film, and I highly recommend it. Oh, and it also is very moving emotionally.