It’s the third film and first documentary from director Sarah Polley, who was previously better known for her work as an actor in the TV series “Avonlea” and films including “The Sweet Hereafter,” “Go,” and “Dawn of the Dead.”
After helming three shorts, she made a successful feature filmmaking debut in 2007 with the drama “Away from Her,” which earned Polley an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and Julie Christie a Best Actress bid as a woman in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Her second film, “Take This Waltz” starring Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen, flew under the radar when it was released in 2012, but with such rapturous reviews for “Stories,” could she be primed for a return trip to the Oscars?
In “Stories,” Polley turns the camera on herself and her family to explore a long-kept secret about her mother that has only recently come to light. Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers says of the film, “The result, with its flashing perspectives and stealthy wit, is unique and unforgettable.” The New York Times‘s Manohla Dargis calls it “an affecting documentary tale about a mother and wife who ached in many of the familiar ways, but didn’t always follow the typical female playbook, which also gives her life the resonance of a mystery that’s too good to spoil here.” And Village Voice‘s Stephanie Zacharek describes it as a “wondrous, absorbing little picture.”
But even with such great reviews can the film win?
In recent years, Best Documentary Feature has favored either uplifting true stories like “Searching for Sugar Man,” “Undefeated,” and “Man on Wire,” or trenchant social/political exposes like “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Taxi to the Dark Side,” and “Inside Job.”
“Stories We Tell” hews more closely to the first category, though it’s hard to neatly categorize Polley’s film, which also sets out to examine themes of memory and personal narrative.
Voting and eligibility rules for documentary features have been in flux in recent years. Currently, films must complete seven-day qualifying runs in both Los Angeles County in California, and the Borough of Manhattan in New York, be advertised in a major newspaper, and be reviewed by either the Los Angeles Times or the New York Times.
Last year marked the first time voting for the winners was expanded to the entire active Academy. Prior to that, only members who attended special screenings were allowed to vote.
This change could benefit populist fare with broader audience appeal, such as “Searching for Sugar Man,” the first winner under this new system. But it might also advantage a well-known filmmaker like Polley, who, with such strong reviews, may also have the backing of many year-end critics’ awards.
Watch the trailer for the film below: