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Sarah Polley reveals family secret in ‘Stories We Tell’

Sarah Polley (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)

It's hard for a filmmaker to keep their personal life out of their movies, but Sarah Polley's new documentary "Stories We Tell" hits right at home. Or rather, inside her home.

See more: Trailer for "Stories We Tell"

The documentary (Polley's first) reveals that the Canadian actress, director, screenwriter, and former star of "Road to Avonlea" was born as a result of an affair.

"This had been confirmed by a DNA test with a man I had met a year earlier. I had met my biological father almost by accident, though I had long suspected based on family jokes and rumours that my mother may have had an affair that led to my conception," the 33-year-old Toronto native wrote in a blog for the National Film Board.

After keeping the secret for about a year, it was leaked to a journalist in 2007. Polley then flew to her father, actor Michael Polley, and told him her discovery, who "was shocked, but not angry." His response instead was to "write and write and write" - about his reaction to the news, about his relationship with Polley's mother who died when she was 11 years old, and about the family's need to tell their own stories. Polley also asked her biological father to write about his relationship with her mother. Using these reactions, as well as those from her siblings, friends, family members, herself, and "everyone [Polley] could find who could speak about it" - the documentary "Stories We Tell" was born.

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"The process of watching a story take on a life of its own, mutate, and change in so many other people's words fascinated me...So I decided to make a film about our need to tell stories, to own our stories, to understand them, and to have them heard," she wrote, despite admitting that "personal documentaries have always made [her] a bit squeamish."


"Stories We Tell" received its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival yesterday, and will get its Canadian debut at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 7. Until the documentary gets a theatrical release, Polley says she will not do media interviews about the story.

"Anything I want to say myself about this part of my life is said in the film...Making this film was the hardest thing I've ever done. It took five years and tormented me," she wrote. "Now it will be written about in many other people's words, and I'm finally at peace with that."