This is a genealogical documentary by Sarah Polley. A good portion of the film is spent listening to different people speak about Polley’s deceased mother, Diane, and events surrounding her own birth. Polley interviews her father, her siblings, step-siblings, potential lovers of her mother, and her mother’s friends. Through all of this we get an idea of the vibrant, energetic woman who was Diane Polley, the impact she had on others, and the impact they had on her.
While the family history is all fine and well, it is not exactly a thrilling film. It’s essentially a slow-paced sleuthing process recounting memories strangers have of a mutual connection. Interesting, but not exactly thrilling. Then, in the latter half of the film, close to the end, Polley does something pretty interesting and reflects on the possibility of being able to capture a true memory of her mother. If it is indeed possible to really know her mother, or understand these past events. She poses the question to a couple of her interviewees and receives some interesting ideas about the nature of memory and whether or not a memory can be truly universally shared. There is an interesting statement put forward that, no matter how ‘organic’ a memory is, it still undergoes an editing process of sorts when it’s shared. It is polished and touched up and segments may be removed or modified to suit the situation, and Polley does a remarkable job of echoing this sentiment throughout the entirety of the film. Before, during, and after the shooting of the documentary, we see establishing shots. People getting ready to be interviewed, cameras or lighting equipment, and even shots or Polley herself as she is directing the picture. On more than one occasion, the idea of the ‘fourth wall’ is broken down and the audience is acutely aware of the fact that this film is being manufactured, but that it is still an essential truth. She also reflects on her own motivations for pursuing this project, once we learn the some key details of the story, and we are let into a very personal and private portion of this person’s life. Polley is really opening herself up to the world with this film, at least in terms of the details surrounding her early childhood and birth.
A side note on Sarah Polley and my bias toward her. I really like Sarah Polley. I was first introduced to her through the Road to Avonlea series (phenomenal), and have seen her in various other productions since then. RTA was taken on by Disney after the first or second season, and ended up letting Polley go because of her political activism and refusal to give into the corporation when they told her to stop. When most of the Disney child stars I can think of off the top of my head end up getting into some of the less than ideal situations, I can only think extremely highly of a person who possessed too much moral integrity for Disney to stand. I also just think that she’s a very talented and genuine actor and director, and am usually inclined to think that whatever she’s affiliated with is bound to be interesting. And it usually is. But that’s just me.
Anyway, the story is not only interesting, but she takes it to another level. Ultimately worth the watch.