By Jessica Allen - Sunday, January 27, 2013 - 0 Comments
… and one thing about Sarah Polley
After 10 days of screening 119 movies from 32 countries, the 2013 Sundance Film Festival wrapped up officially on Sunday in Park City, Utah. Here are four things you need to know about this year’s festival, plus one shout-out to a Canadian:
1. Film festivals exist so that buyers can shop for films. Here’s a complete list of every acquisition (so far–deals are still being made) at the 29th installment of Sundance compiled by the folks at Indiewire.
2. Sarah Polley’s documentary Stories We Tell, which first premiered last August at the Venice Film Festival (and went on to be screened in both Telluride and Toronto’s film festivals–and which recently won the TFCA Rogers Best Canadian Film Award–enjoyed a well-received screening at Sundance. Making more news back home, where Stories We Tell opened in theatres way back in October, was the 34-year-old’s new haircut. The Toronto Star’s Linda Barnard met up with Polley at Sundance this year and wrote a lovely piece on the director’s history with the festival.
3. Two of the most buzzed about films this year were Fruitvale and Cutie and the Boxer. The former, a film by first-time director Ryan Coogler based on the true and tragic events of 22-year-old Oscar Grant who was shot by police in the Bay Area in 2009, took home both the U.S. Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. audience award for best drama. That makes it only the fourth film in the festival’s history to take home both prizes. And the latter, a documentary about a tumultuous and beautiful 40-year-old relationship between two Japanese artists, won an award for its director, Zachary Heinzerling. It’s also his first feature film.
4. Bradford Young, a 34-year old cinematographer from New York, shot two of Reel Politk’s Anthony Kaufman’s favourite films at Sundance this year: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Mother of George. Well, good eye Kaufman: Both films picked up awards for Cinematography.
5. And lastly, a complete list of all the winners, officially announced by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt at Sunday night’s awards ceremony.
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 4:43 PM - 0 Comments
I’m the last journalist in town to blog last night’s TFCA Awards gala at the Carlu in Toronto. As TFCA prez, it’s hard to run a show and write about at the same time. By now, the story has been amply reported elsewhere, so I’ll be brief.
It was a big night, not just for Toronto Film Critics Association, but for the Canadian film community. The TFCA’s newly endowed Rogers Best Canadian Film Award, now worth a staggering $100,000, has become the richest arts prize in the country. Sarah Polley won for her astonishing family memoir, Stories We Tell, while the other two nominees Denis Côté’s zoo documentary Bestiare and Michael Dowse’s hockey comedy, Goon, took home $5,000 each as runners-up. Polley also won the TFCA’s Allan King Documentary Award for Stories We Tell, accepting it from a hilarious Rick Mercer, who told a yarn about Polley visiting his parents in Newfoundland. (I wasn’t taking notes; you had to be there.) Don McKellar, who presented the Rogers prize to Polley, mused about three disparate nominees—”movies about zoo animals, hockey violence and adultery”—and quipped they could be melded into one great Canadian movie. I hope that mogul Robert Lantos, who was in attendance, was listening.
McKellar also delivered some devastating standup about the elephant in the room: the surreal incongruity of a bunch of critics presenting a prize that, for some Canadian filmmakers, would constitute multi-picture funding. He talked about how he and his colleagues have such a hard time raising money for Canadian films. Then along come the critics—”Hey, here’s $100,000!” Polley, meanwhile, gave a gracious and emotional speech as she saw her professional and personal life merge with uncanny symmetry. The gala dinner happened to take place on her 34rd birthday. Having released two features in 2012 (Take This Waltz, Stories We Tell), and giving birth to a baby girl, she said this has been “the best year of my life.” And host Cameron Bailey, TIFF artistic director, led the room of 260 guests in a singing of Happy Birthday. Praising Rogers Vice-Chair Phil Lind for supporting Canadian filmmakers with such a generous award, she spoke about the importance of the private sector lending its support to the arts. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 12:31 AM - 0 Comments
I bring you breaking news from the Toronto Film Critics Association—of which I’m president but do not control. It’s what they call a democratic organization; one critic, one vote. At a weekend meeting, over platters of crustless sandwiches fit for a garden party, we voted on our favorite films of 2012. There was some spirited debate, and some very close races, but no one lost an eye. Unlike the characters in the movie we liked best, we didn’t swig moonshine or wrestle each other to the ground. The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s 70 mm epic about a cult leader and the ravaged war veteran who falls under his spell, dominated the TFCA winner’s circle, taking four categories, including best picture, director, screenplay and supporting actor. This is the second time an Anderson film has won the TFCA’s top prize: In 1999, his Magnolia won awards for Best Picture and Best Director, and he shared the Best Screenplay prize with Being John Malkovich author Charlie Kaufman. (Anderson was also named Best Director in 2002 for Punch-Drunk Love, making this his third time winning that award.) Yes, P.T., we like you; we really like you.
The TFCA (of which I’m president) also announced today the three finalists for the newly endowed $100,000 Rogers Best Canadian Film Award: Bestiaire, directed by Denis Côté, Goon, directed by Michael Dowse, and Stories We Tell, directed by Sarah Polley. Each of these movies defies any fixed preconceptions about the character of Canadian cinema. They’re all films of a kind we haven’t seen before. Bestiaire is a visionary documentary from Montreal that explores our relationship to the animal world. Stories We Tell, a doc from Toronto, unfolds as a procedural home movie, investigating the filmmaker’s family secrets; and Goon, shot largely in Winnipeg and set across the country, is a viciously funny comedy about hockey violence.” Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 7:29 PM - 0 Comments
TIFF announced Canada’s Top Ten list of features and shorts tonight at a Toronto event hosted by actress Sarah Gadon and filmmaker Don McKellar. The list of feature directors offers mostly familiar names—David Cronenberg, Sarah Polley, Deepa Mehta, Peter Mettler, Michael Dowse, Xavier Dolan and Michael McGowan—along with lesser known filmmakers such as Nisha Pahuja and Kim Nguyen. The cultural balance is unusually tipped toward English Canada, with only two Quebec directors in the mix. (Denis Arcand, Denis Villeneuve and Philippe Farardeau didn’t release movies in 2012.) Four of the 10 features are set in foreign countries. Noticeable by its absence is Picture Day, which just won the Whistler Film Festival’s $15,000 Borsos Prize for best Canadian feature.
Canada’s top 10 features, ordered alphabetically:
Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg (Entertainment One Films)
The End of Time, Peter Mettler (Mongrel Media, National Film Board)
Goon, Michael Dowse (Alliance Films)
Laurence Anyways, Xavier Dolan (Alliance Films)
Midnight’s Children, Deepa Mehta (Mongrel Media)
My Awkward Sexual Adventure, Sean Garrity (Phase 4 Films)
Rebelle, Kim Nguyen (Mongrel Media)
Still, Michael McGowan (Mongrel Media)
Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley (Mongrel Media, NFB)
The World Before Her, Nisha Pahuja (KinoSmith)
The top 10 shorts:
Bydlo, Patrick Bouchard (NFB)
Chef de meute (Herd Leader), Chloé Robichaud
Crackin’ Down Hard, Mike Clattenburg
Kaspar, Diane Obomsawin (NFB)
Ne crâne pas sois modeste (Keep a Modest Head), Deco Dawson
Lingo, Bahar Noorizadeh
Malody, Phillip Barker
Old Growth, Tess Girard
Reflexions, Martin Thibaudeau
Paparmane (Wintergreen), Joëlle Desjardins Paquette
By Daniel Barna - Friday, November 30, 2012 at 5:04 PM - 0 Comments
The filmmakers of ‘The Fruit Hunters’ on getting their project made in the Great White North
When it was announced earlier this year that Canadian documentary funding was to undergo radical cuts, with Telefilm slashing 50 per cent of its $1 million allotment to the Theatrical Documentary Program, doc filmmakers around the country– who’ve been dependent on government cheese since the National Film Board’s inception 70 years ago–began a collective sweat. With glaring cutbacks to the CBC and NFB as well, a fertile artistic community was at risk of drying out.
Fortunately, the team behind the new government-funded feature-length documentary The Fruit Hunters, already had their financing secured. “I definitely had an ‘Indiana Jones-sliding-under-the-closing-tomb-door-and-grabbing-his-hat’ feeling at the time,” says Mark Slutsky, who co-wrote the film alongside its director, Montreal’s Yung Chang. Inspired by Adam Leith Gollner’s eponymous 2008 novel, The Fruit Hunters is a kaleidoscopic peek into the subterranean world of exotic fruits, and the off-kilter cast of characters that collect, cultivate, chase, eat, and obsess over them.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, October 12, 2012 at 12:08 PM - 0 Comments
Deconstruction is the style du jour this weekend, with the release of five wildly diverse movies that all just happen to be about the artifice of filmmaking or the mirage of celebrity. Three are of special interest to Canadians: Ben Affleck’s Argo, a Hollywood satire/suspense thriller about a fake movie that served as a CIA cover for Canada’s 1980 rescue of Americans in Iran; Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley’s stunning home movie memoir about the mystery of her parentage; and Antiviral, Canadian director Brandon Cronenberg’s morbid sci-fi vision of a world where fans pay to be injected with patented viruses that have infected celebrities. The other two are Seven Psychopaths, a pulp comedy about a screenwriter making a movie called, uh, Seven Psychopaths; and Nobody Walks, an erotically charged diversion co-written by Lena Dunham (Girls), about a promiscuous young artiste who cuts a carnal swath through a family while finessing her experimental film with the man of the house. I’ve already written extensively about Polley’s gripping documentary, and interviewed the director. Somewhere in our trail of coverage, I even called it a masterpiece, not a word I’m inclined to sling around. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 10:40 AM - 0 Comments
Oscar-nominee’s new film solves the riddle of her birth
Sarah Polley received the shattering news in the fall of 2006, just after launching Away From Her, her Oscar-nominated feature-directing debut. A DNA test confirmed her suspicions that the man she had called dad all her life, Toronto actor Michael Polley, was not her biological father. The youngest of five children born to actress Diane Polley, Sarah learned that she was the product of an affair her mother had with a Montreal movie producer—a secret Diane took to her grave when she died of cancer just after Sarah’s 11th birthday. The results “knocked me on my ass,” says Polley, sipping cider in a café around the corner from her Toronto home. “I had a fever for 2½ weeks after I read that result. It was so strange, to have to completely reimagine where you biologically come from.”
It took Polley almost a year before she could bring herself to tell the man who raised her that she doesn’t share his genes. And as her family secret leaked out, she kept it from the public for another five years, convincing journalists not to report it because this was a story she wanted exclusive rights to. Meanwhile she divorced, remarried, raised a mutant child in the sci-fi horror film Splice, portrayed a depressed mother in Mr. Nobody, directed Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen in Take This Waltz, and had a baby. But now she has unveiled the puzzle of her parentage in an enthralling documentary, Stories We Tell, which premiered at festivals in Venice and Toronto to the acclaim of critics.
“I never believed the secret could be kept this long,” says Polley, sitting down for her first interview about the movie, scheduled for release Oct. 12. “I realized I’ve gone to all this trouble and people are going to read the story before they see the film anyway. But I made the film to have agency in how the story was going to be told.” Documentaries don’t usually require spoiler alerts. But Stories We Tell, which was produced by the National Film Board, unwraps the riddle of Polley’s birth with such compelling intrigue that “documentary” seems to undersell it.
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 7:32 PM - 0 Comments
As the TIFF circus folds up its tent, here are my 10 personal favorites from the festival. It’s a subjective list. I watched more than 50 features programmed at the festival, some in Cannes last May. But with so much to see and so little time, there are still bound to be some great movies that I missed. Note that four films on the list are documentaries:
1. The Act of Killing
Joshua Oppenheimer’s shattering documentary about Indonesia’s 1965 genocide is without precedent—a portrait of mass murder by the perpetrators, proud gangsters who re-enact their crimes for the camera.
2. Stories We Tell
Boldly putting her entire family on camera, Sarah Polley unwraps the riddle of her parentage with exquisite craft. Deconstructing as she goes, she turns the home movie, real and faux, into new genre of investigative memoir.
3. The Master
Acting doesn’t get any better as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, cast as a L. Ron Hubbard-like cult leader and his unstable acolyte, play truth or dare. Paul Thomas Anderson’s gorgeous 70-mm period epic decants extra-virgin snake oil of the highest order.
In a far more subtle fashion, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give an octogenarian master class in acting. Michael Haneke, best known for visions of human cruelty, gears down with a dire, delicate chamber piece about an aged couple facing their mortality in a Paris apartment. It won the Palme d’Or in Cannes and will likely lead the Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film.
5. The Hunt and Beyond the Hills
I’m calling a two-way tie between these European dramas about intolerance, which (like Amour) I haven’t seen since Cannes. Directed by Denmark’s Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration), Mads Mikkelsen gives an intense, finely calibrated performance in The Hunt, as a divorced man whose life is ruined after a young girl falsely accuses him of sexual abuse. And in Beyond the Hills, Romania’s Cristian Mungiu tells a horrific but true story of an exorcism performed on a young woman who tries to liberate a nun from a monastery.
6. Silver Linings Playbook
Football, mental illness, dance and romance mix with Altman-esque chaos in an off-kilter crowd pleaser from David O. Russell. Bradley Cooper is pitch-perfect as an ex-mental patient who goes off his meds and moves back home to an OCD dad played by De Niro. Jennifer Lawrence steals the movie so deftly we don’t even realize we’re watching a romantic comedy until we’re hooked by the plot’s Hail Mary pass.
7. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tom Ungerer Story
A documentary portrait of the artist as an old man tracks him from his origins as a Nazi-scarred child in Alsace through his various American lives as magazine illustrator, best-selling children’s author, anti-war propagandist and S&M freak. Computer graphics bring his subversive art magically to life.
The documentary camera goes where it’s never gone before in this action painting that takes us into a churning, real-time whorl of fish, men, birds and water from the deck-level POV of a fishing boat at sea. This documentary views industrial slaughter with ferocious intimacy. It also batters the optic nerve with dizzying syncopations of light and dark. So it’s hard to watch, but equally hard to forget.
9. Anna Karenina
Reunited with director Joe Wright (Atonement), and his adoring gaze, a radiant Keira Knightley brings more depth to Tolstoy’s heroine than you would ever expect. An ingenious adaptation, scripted by Tom Stoppard, frames lush visuals with a trompe l’oeil theatrical setting that, has trains thundering across a proscenium stage.
Quebec writer-director Kim Nguyen spent a decade bringing this harrowing drama of African child soldiers to the screen. Shot in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it’s the tale of a pregnant 14-year-old girl (Rachel Mwanza) who is forced to kill her parents and become a child soldier. Nguyen’s camera shies away from depicting atrocities, finding moments of tenderness and humour in a story of authentic horror. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 11:36 PM - 0 Comments
The juggernaut is winding down. Proof of that came as early as Tuesday when TIFF CEO Piers Handling made a Freudian slip while introducing the Inescapable gala saying, “We’re looking forward to the last two days of the festival.” Maybe he misspoke, or I misheard and he said “last few days.” Either way, there were still five days left to go. But TIFF peaks early. The studios fly in American journalists for press junkets on the opening weekend, and by Wednesday the crowds have thinned. The movies will continue to play until Sunday, but by now it’s time to take stock.
We’ve seen some strong films—and too many mediocre ones that had no business being at this festival, any festival, except to stick mid-level stars like Greg Kinnear on a red carpet. I won’t waste your time with them. But among the heavyweight American dramas, two movies, The Master and Cloud Atlas, loomed largest. And they present polar opposites of narrative bravado. Shot on the lush retro format of 70 mm film by Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master’s story of a Second World War veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls under the spell of a Scientology-like cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is an epic storm of emotion. Cloud Atlas, which splices and dices David Mitchell’s novel, is a Rubiks’s Cube of interlocking stories spanning a half dozen centuries and worlds. It’s a conceptual stunt, $100-million toy that recycles a blockbuster bin of genre tropes from films that range from The Matrix, Blade Runner, Avatar and The Lord of the Rings.
Powered by a raging duel of two terrifyingly good actors, The Master is all about character; Cloud Atlas is all about plot, an intricate gizmo of plot that’s constructed as a Transformer-like special effect. But here’s the crucial difference between the artistic ambitions of the two films: The Master examines the snake oil, shakes it up and spills it all around, leaving us disturbed and confused, infected with mystery and doubt; Cloud Atlas traffics in snake oil, drilling us with the same kind of ideological mantra about freedom, enslavement, and heroic consciousness that made movies like The Matrix and Inception much dumber than they pretended to be. Paul Thomas Anderson has made a movie about a bogus religion. The directing trio behind Cloud Atlas—Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana (formerly Larry) Wachowski—have made a religious movie. I’m still thinking about The Master and am keen to see it again; once was enough for Cloud Atlas.
The so-called real world, meanwhile, held its own at TIFF in what turned out to be an exceptional festival for documentaries. Continue…
By Elio Iannacci - Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 1:28 PM - 0 Comments
On writing her first book of fiction, her love of Sarah Polley and what she really thought of her ‘Pretty in Pink’ prom dress
Molly Ringwald was the teen queen of the ’80s. In coming of age dramas such as Pretty In Pink, The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, the actress served up scenes layered with pouty, pensive, poignant moments which went on to redefine the notion of the screen teen. Her copper-coloured hair and astute, emotionally wrought line delivery (remember the way Ringwald coughed up “if somebody doesn’t believe in me, I can’t believe in them” in Sixteen Candles?), prepared Hollywood for a new generation of young, indie leading ladies, long before the Winona Ryders and Chloe Sevignys of the world came to roost.
At 44, Ringwald is once again trying to break new ground. The L.A.-based mother of three recently tried her hand at novel writing—her first book of fiction, When It Happens To You is currently on shelves—and is slated to release an album of jazz covers. While doing the rounds for her new book, Ringwald spoke with Maclean’s about her writing process, her love of Sarah Polley and her disdain for Paul Ryan.
Q: Every character in your novel is struggling with internal conflict. What would you say instigates most of it?
A: Betrayal. It is such a universal and rich subject. Being a woman and being the age that I am—I see it all around me. So I thought it was interesting to write about it from so many points of view from people who are experiencing it from all sides.
Q: How much of your main character—Greta—is connected to you and your circle of friends?
A: I have met a few Gretas but most of the women that I know have careers. But there are a lot of stay-at-home moms that are like Greta in the world. They all seem to have an agreement they make with their spouse. It’s a secret deal they’re making when they decide to stay home and take care of the kids all day. When that deal is broken by betrayal, it is so tough. To have the rug pulled out from under you—especially when all of your eggs are placed in one basket—makes dealing with a cheating spouse a lot harder.
Q: One of the characters in your book is a six year-old boy named Oliver who is questioning his gender. While taking your daughters and son to the playground, have you witnessed children going through the same thing?
A: Yes. Oliver was actually inspired by two different kids I knew. Both have two different mothers, who handled the situation in completely different ways. The one child who was [struggling the most] was more obviously transgendered —I’m absolutely positive he will grow up and live as a woman. His mom was not on board at all with him wanting to be a girl. It was heartbreaking. I sympathized with her a lot even though I didn’t necessarily think that she was making the right choices for her son. The wheels started spinning for Oliver when I thought about what I would feel like if I were his mom.
Q: What kind of reactions have you been getting from parents?
A: I received a really amazing response from the author of the book, Prodigal Sons. A movie [adaptation] of it came out a couple years ago. It’s about a transgendered woman who was originally a football star in high school. He was a man who ended up becoming a woman—now she’s one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. She was given a copy of my book and was so positive about it. She said that I completely got Oliver’s character and was so happy that I had written his part from his mother’s point of view.
Q: The ending of the book has received some critical debate. Was it tough to wrap up so many stories concisely?
A: Yes. I stand by it. It couldn’t be an overwhelmingly happy ending but I didn’t want to end it in a bleak way either. Striking that balance and leaving it open-ended was necessary. Who knows if these people are actually going to be able to make it?
Q: In an interview with the New York Times, you mentioned that The Breakfast Club had a few scenes pulled out of the original script. Was there something that you loved from the film that was cut out?
A: I remember the dream sequence was a lot longer, and more surreal. I really loved it. Our character’s minds were going in all these weird places and imagining things because of the boredom of the detention. They had me in a wedding dress, like [Claire] was getting married. Also: there was a whole speech from Claire explaining why she’s in detention.
Q: The characters of Claire from Breakfast Club, Samantha from Sixteen Candles and Andie from Pretty In Pink constantly get a lot of play on fashion blogs. How much of your personal style was brought into the characters?
A: A lot. I influenced all of their looks. On Sixteen Candles I went out with a costumer and bought all my clothes myself, right on Melrose. For Breakfast Club we had long discussions on what [Claire] would wear but when the clothes actually showed up in Chicago—they looked very different from what we had talked about. So John Hughes and I went out in Chicago and bought a whole new bunch of outfits for her. The only thing I wasn’t too thrilled about was that prom dress for [Andie] in Pretty in Pink.
Q: You’ve just recorded a jazz album of standards. What was your criteria like for choosing tracks?
A: I chose songs about love and I tried to pick songs that you haven’t necessarily heard covered a lot. Songs like The Very Thought of You, Exactly Like You and one called You Fascinate Me So as well as a song called Ballad of a Sad Young Man—which was recorded by Anita O’Day and Nina Simone.
Q: You made a public service announcement against Prop 8 and have been a grand marshal at LA’s Gay Pride Parade. What do you think about Paul Ryan’s stance on marriage?
A: I obviously don’t agree with him—he’s completely wrong and I think that history will prove him wrong. It’s hard for me to relate to somebody so backward. It’s like somebody saying that they believe in slavery. It’s just as bad. We’re still in that place where the tide is shifting and I really do think that it is. We still have a ways to go but we will get there. I feel our grandchildren will look back and shake their heads in disbelief.
Q: I’ve read you’ve said that you write 500 words per two hours? Are you typically in solitude?
A: It’s 500 words or two hours, whichever comes first. I’m not always alone. I love to write next to my husband where I can touch him or pat his shoulder or something. I like that contact.
Q: It has been reported that you are working on a screenplay for It Could Happen To You. Who would you cast as Greta?
A: Sarah Polley. I love her. She’s the type of actress that I imagine for Greta. I’ve written her as a blonde and petite and Greta doesn’t really talk a lot so it would have to be somebody like Sarah who has her intelligence on her face. I also like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Claire Danes—anyone unconventional.
Q: Would you direct or star in the film?
A: I would really like to be the person to direct it as well. If I did play a part in it I would want to play Marina, the mother of Oliver. And she’s the only woman I’ve written as a redhead.
Q: When you hear Don’t You Forget About Me by the Simple Minds, what’s your first reaction?
A: Really powerful memories. The second I hear the chorus I associate it to what I was going through at the time. I think of [director] John [Hughes] and his generosity.
Q: So much has been made about your involvement in the TV show, The Secret Life of Teenager. The scripts tackle so many political issues, such as abortion. Were you hesitant to sign on?
A: Not at all. [The show’s creator], Brenda Hampton, is not writing a political show. She’s writing drama so the more she creates, the more you get people to talk about it. So I think she brings in all these different points of view—from the right wing and the left it’s pretty smart of her.
Q: What are you reading anything now?
A: I read a lot of Jami Attenberg. She’s come out with a book called The Middlesteins, which is really good. I started Canada by Richard Ford. It is going to take a while, it’s big and it’s got some pace but I’ll stick with it.
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 4:40 PM - 0 Comments
If you’re looking for evidence that Canada’s media culture is a kinder, gentler place than its American and British counterparts, look no further than the case of Sarah Polley. Today the 33-year-old Toronto filmmaker and actress finally went public with a family secret that has been known to certain members of the film community and the media for well over a year—that actor Michael Polley, the man she’s called Dad all her life, is not her biological father, and that her mother, who died when she was 11, conceived her during an extra-marital affair. Sarah revealed the secret in a blog post on the National Film Board’s website, as she braced herself for the Venice and TIFF premieres of Stories We Tell, an astonishing documentary in which she unravels her family history. I’m one of several journalists who became privy to the secret ages ago but, at Polley’s adamant request, refrained from going public. I had tried to talk her into giving me the story. But I respected her wishes, partly because her privacy seemed more important the public’s need to know. But also because to do otherwise would seem like dubious journalism: sure, I could have cobbled a piece together from sources, but without Polley’s confirmation, and the details she could provide, breaking her secret seemed at best shoddy and at worst unethical.
Now that I’ve seen her documentary, which premieres in Venice next Wednesday, I’m glad I didn’t spill the beans. It’s a brilliant film: an enthralling, exquisitely layered masterpiece of memoir that unravels an extraordinary world of family secrets through a maze of interviews, home movies, and faux home movies cast with actors. And now I find I’m reluctant to reveal details that Polley has put on film—not to preserve her privacy, but so as not to spoil the story she has told with such consummate skill and sensitivity onscreen.
If you want to know more — spoiler alert! — here are some excerpts from Polley’s NFB blog post:
“In 2007 I was on set in Montreal, shooting a scene for the film Mr. Nobody. I received a phone call from a friend warning me that a journalist had found out a piece of information about my life that I had kept a secret for a year. I got in touch with the journalist and begged him not to print the story. It was a story that I had kept secret from many people in my life including my father. It took some time and many tears to convince the journalist not to print the story within the week, but I left that conversation convinced that it was not a secret I could keep for long, and that if I wanted the people in my life and outside my life to know the story in my own words, I would have to take action.
“I flew to Toronto that night to tell my father the news. He was not my biological father. 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.
“My father’s response to this staggering piece of news was extraordinary. He has always been a man who responds to things in unusual ways, for better or for worse. He was shocked, but not angry. His chief concern, almost immediately, was that my siblings and I not put any blame on my mother for her straying outside of their marriage. He was candid about his own lack of responsiveness towards her and how that may have led her to the point where she sought out the affection of another person. And then he began to write. And write and write and write.
“He wrote the story of their marriage, her affair (which he put together from other people’s memories), and his relationship with me. He wrote about our need to tell stories.
“My biological father, at my behest, had also begun writing the story of his relationship with my mother. He is a fine storyteller too and one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. Each of us had a deep and growing need to tell the story, different parts of it, in different ways, with emphasis on different details, in a way that reflected our own experience and what was most important to us as we are now.
“My siblings began telling the story to their friends. Journalists who heard the story from various sources began calling me and asking me to be interviewed about this discovery. Everyone who heard the story seemed to want to own it. . . “
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, June 29, 2012 at 1:40 PM - 0 Comments
I’ve seen Take This Waltz twice, first at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, and more recently while preparing a feature, Marriage Polley Style, on writer-director Sarah Polley. Between TIFF coverage and writing that feature, I feel a bit Waltzed-out. But I haven’t actually weighed in with a review, until now. Today the film finally opens, nine months after its festival premiere.
People often ask me if I see movies more than once before reviewing them. The answer: if necessary. When months elapse between the premiere and the commercial release, you need to refresh your memory. The thing is, a movie inevitably changes on second viewing. They get better or worse. I had mixed feelings about Take This Waltz on first viewing, and still do. But the second time around, I liked it a whole lot better.
Here’s the deliberately non-committal capsule review I wrote during TIFF: “Sarah Polley’s second feature marks a bold departure. It’s as expansive, reckless and flamboyant as her debut feature (Away From Her) was intimate, restrained and sombre. Michelle Williams stars as Margot, a Toronto woman whose cozy marriage to Mr. Nice Guy—a cookbook author played with stoic sincerity by Seth Rogen—is threatened as Margo tiptoes into a slow-burn summer romance with the dreamboat next door (Luke Kirby). With its giddy spirit of hometown rapture—throwing Sarah Silverman into an aquafit class scored by the Parachute Club—Take This Waltz lacks the discipline of her Alice Munro adaptation. But Polley braves some highly charged personal terrain, plunging into the deep end of marital angst, as her heroine is torn between domestic comfort and adulterous fantasy.”
On first viewing, I felt the movie was too long and discursive. And the story arc of Sarah Silverman’s character—Lou’s alcoholic sister—seemed too tangential. Also, as a tale of romantic frustration, Take This Waltz can be frustrating. As Margot is torn between her stolid husband and her fantasy suitor, I found it hard to root for either alternative. You almost wish someone else would come along. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 9:20 PM - 0 Comments
The Canadian director waltzes in with a new man, a new baby and a bold new movie that hits pretty close to home
Everyone was nervous about the shower scene. It may not have been essential to Take This Waltz, the story of a wife (Michelle Williams) who’s tempted to cheat on her husband (Seth Rogen). But in a movie ripe with love and sex, writer-director Sarah Polley liked the idea of showing women casually naked in a context that has nothing to do with either: a shower room at the YMCA. The scene presents all kinds of female bodies—old, obese, black, white—on full frontal display, along with Williams, who lathers her hair while Sarah Silverman asks herself why she bothers to shave her legs for a husband who won’t notice.
The morning they shot the scene, Polley offered her stars a reprieve. “You guys are off the hook,” she told them. “If anyone wants to back out of it now, I don’t care what’s in your contracts, I’m not forcing anybody.” As the director recalls, “It created this weird feminist roar—No, we’re doing the scene! They were nervous yet really into it at the same time. It was oddly liberating.”
Polley seems to have a knack for getting her way—whether she’s enlisting Williams and Silverman to get naked, or coaxing an Oscar-nominated performance from Julie Christie in Away From Her (2006). In that debut feature, which Polley finessed at the age of 27, she cast Christie as an Alzheimer’s victim who forgets she has a husband. Now in Take This Waltz she has cast Williams as a woman who regrets she has a husband. Set in a hot Toronto summer, the story revolves around Margot, a writer of tourist brochures stalled in a comfortable but unexciting marriage to an author of cookbooks solely devoted to chicken. On a trip to Cape Breton, she meets a tall dark stranger (Luke Kirby), who by wild coincidence lives across the street back home. He’s a romantic fantasy, an artist who makes his living as a rickshaw driver—literally pulling a chariot.
By Martin Patriquin - Monday, April 30, 2012 at 1:51 AM - 0 Comments
John Edwards heads to court, St. John’s mayor takes on Harper, and Lindsay Lohan returns to the big screen
After years of tawdry headlines, tarnished Democratic Party golden boy John Edwards is going to court. The former senator and presidential candidate is accused of diverting $900,000 in contributions to his 2008 presidential campaign to cover up an affair with videographer Rielle Hunter, as well as the birth of their child. Edwards, whose wife, Elizabeth, died of cancer in 2010, contends that the funds weren’t campaign contributions; rather, the lawyers for the North Carolina politician say, the money was a gift from friends to help him out in his time of need. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.
The final frontier
After having a go at astrophysics, academia and the world of high tech, Cheick Modibo Diarra has moved on to something far more complicated: governing an African nation. Between 1989 and 2002, the Mali-born Diarra oversaw unmanned NASA missions to Mars, Venus, Jupiter and the sun. He then became president of one African university and co-founded another, before becoming head of Microsoft Africa in 2006. After launching a political party last year, Diarra was recently appointed interim prime minister of Mali following a coup d’état. His first challenge: quelling rebel uprisings in the country’s north. Getting a spacecraft to Mars may be simpler by comparison.
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 1:45 PM - 0 Comments
Café de Flore leads the field competing in the 32nd annual Genie Awards with a total of 13 nominations, including best picture and director. The film marks a virtuosic return to form for C.R.A.Z.Y director Jean-Marc Vallée after his rather subdued work-for-hire, The Young Victoria. By vaulting ahead of the pack in the Genie nominations, which were announced today, Vallée wins some vindication after being repeatedly upstaged by Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar—which won TIFF’s $30,000 award for best Canadian feature, the Toronto Film Critics Association’s $15,000 Rogers Best Canadian Film Award—and was picked as Canada’s official submission slot at the Oscars for best foreign-language film. Monsieur Lazhar ranked third among the Genie nominations, scoring in eight categories, behind David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, which received 11 nominations.
The big shock among the nominees was that Take This Waltz, the star-studded second feature from writer-director Sarah Polley received just two nominations—best actress for Michelle Williams and best make-up. That’s extraordinary given the depth of talent in the cast (Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman) and the fact that Polley’s sensational feature debut, Away From Her, won seven Genies and received two Oscar nominations. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 9, 2012 at 8:03 AM - 0 Comments
My story on Calgary MP Michelle Rempel is as much an indictment of Canadian politics as it is a shot in the arm for the rookie Tory. What has caught everyone’s eye is how she calmly, confidently, and assertively handles opposition questions in the House of Commons. She doesn’t appear wooden or nervous, she doesn’t hold a sheet of paper before her eyes and read scripted answers from the prime minister’s office, and she doesn’t get rattled.
Don’t get me wrong. Rempel would be seen as an MP with potential in any era. And there are some excellent speakers on both sides of the House of Commons. But shouldn’t all politicians, who are paid handsomely … be able to speak publicly? And if they can’t shouldn’t they learn?
For the sake of perspective, Peter digs up a profile he wrote of Stanley Knowles in 1988. And to that I’ll add my interview with Bob Rae from November.
By Jessica Allen - Friday, September 16, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
At TIFF2011, Jessica Allen learned the ins and outs of celebrity hunting. Now she’s back …
A novice navigating Toronto International Film Festival nightlife on the opening Friday and Saturday eves of the festival—the only nights, the pros will tell you, that guarantee spotting gaggles of A-list celebrities—is a comedy of errors. Mistakes are inevitable, like leaving George Strombolopolous’s party at ONE restaurant uptown on Friday night in order to get downtown to Soho House—a pop-up club sponsored by Grey Goose in an old brick building—because Twitter, the all-knowing oracle of TIFF, which was difficult to consult earlier (because there was dinner with Harvey Weinstein to report on), says that the cast of Ides of March, including George Clooney, Ryan Reynolds and Philip Seymour Hoffman, are there, not to mention Mark Wahlberg, who has got behind the bar to make cocktails for himself and his entourage, and Tilda Swinton, who is at this very moment eating dinner. Of course, upon arrival, the stars have left and Swinton is out of sight.
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 2:58 PM - 0 Comments
There has been a full-frontal assault of sex and nudity onscreen at this year’s TIFF. It ranges from Last Tango in Toronto scenarios in Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz to Michael Fassbender flashing some serious endowment in Shame. The festival is also thick with prostitutes. (I’m referring to the movies, not the parties—but who knows?) Fassbender’s character in Shame is hooked on hookers. In Fernando Mereilles‘ 360, Jude Law is a travelling businessman who risks his marriage to Rachel Weisz by arranging a call girl. The House of Tolerance luxuriates in a fin-de-siècle Parisian brothel. And Whores’ Glory goes behind the scenes of the global sex trade.
But the most astonishing portrayal of sex and prostitution is to be found in a superb French movie called Elles, directed by Polish filmmaker Malgoska Szumowska. Juliette Binoche stars as a Paris journalist researching a magazine piece about student prostitutes. As two of her subjects talk about their tricks—shown in graphic interludes—her maternal concern for the young women gives way to a disturbing envy. Based on a documentary, Elles doesn’t glamorize prostitution, but it ditches the usual clichés to portray a generation of empowered, self-employed hookers who claim to enjoy their work. They cast their tricks, choosing men they find at least minimally attractive. Their problems are with their social invisibility and hiding their profession from their family.
By a fluke, I watched Elles at its TIFF premiere seated directly behind the star and her director. In my long years as a film critic, this has never happened before, and it was downright weird, seeing every nervous twitch and laugh from these two women in the foreground of their film. Like a scene from an Atom Egoyan movie. It was especially strange during Juliette Binoche’s masturbation scene: watching her watching herself struggle to attain orgasm. Continue…
By Andrew Tolson - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 1:20 PM - 2 Comments
Movie stars don’t have a lot of time.
When you’re photographing them, there’s no asking about their Aunt Phyllis or how their golf swing is progressing. Yes, there’s small talk of the ‘How are you liking Toronto?’ variety, but really, they just want you to get the shot and move on. They have a red carpet to walk, scripts to read, multi-million dollar deals to sign, and, presumably, eating and sleeping to do. For the Movie Star, this is all part of their job; the promoting, the glad-handing and the quickie hotel room portraits. It’s all business.
Which is why you only have one minute to take the photograph.
For the Movie Star, there are varying degrees of involvement in the shoot. Most endure it like a grumpy kid having their picture taken with Santa Claus. Some enjoy the exercise, such as David Cronenberg, who cordially offered me his very effective Death Stare. Sarah Silverman had fun posing as if she were cramped into a photo booth. For some Movie Stars of a certain vintage, it’s about controlling their image: Juliette Binoche insisted on critiquing every frame and pronounced I “had the shot,” when I wasn’t sure I did.
(She was right. I did.)
But during that single minute I have with the Movie Star, it’s always an odd sensation, being so close to someone who is normally forty feet tall. Because after you’ve been face to face with them, in some anonymous hotel room or bland boardroom, you can’t help but feel the Movie Star seems, well, kind of normal.
Follow me: @andrewtolson @macleansphoto
By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, September 12, 2011 at 12:14 AM - 2 Comments
My left foot has been a preoccupation at TIFF, or more precisely my big toe, which I fractured on the eve of the festival in a guilty flurry of domesticity—yanking the green bin out to the garbage in the dark while forgetting about the jagged flagstone that sits on the lid to keep out raccoons. I’m not looking for sympathy here. Any journalist “doing” the festival talks about as a physical endurance test, a sleepless marathon of movies, interviews, parties and writing. It’s not a war, but we act like it is.
That notion of TIFF being a hardship assignment was put into sobering perspective when I ran into a couple of bored photographers heading off to shoot actors in hotel rooms: one was just back from Afghanistan, the other was going off to cover child soldiers in Africa. Still, I like to think my raccoon-related injury makes me a casualty of something. And wading into the Blackberry-blinded mobs at TIFF wearing sandals (shoes are too painful) does makes one paranoid. I try not to talk about the Toe any more—every second person you meet has a broken toe story. But assiduously avoiding contact, I stubbed it on someone’s luggage in a hotel lobby, two minutes before interviewing Sarah Silverman for her role in Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz. I had to share my pain.
Silverman, who is 40 but looks like a teenager, didn’t have a toe story. But she held out her hands, which looked small and fragile, and pointed out where she had broken two of her fingers—on the treadmill. The treadmill? She mimed the movement of an over-zealous jogger, arms flying akimbo. “I hit them on the sides of the machine.”
I began our interview with a riddle: “What do Psycho and Take This Waltz have in common?”
The answer: “Everyone wants to talk about the shower scene.” Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, September 9, 2011 at 10:57 AM - 0 Comments
Brian D. Johnson interviews the Canadian actor
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, June 4, 2010 at 11:13 AM - 5 Comments
In the psychodrama ‘Splice,’ the most awful undercurrents of parenthood come to the fore
The Avatar question always comes up. Vincenzo Natali’s Splice does, after all, feature a sexy humanoid babe with a long, restless tail. But Natali had the idea for his movie long before fellow Canadian James Cameron created his 3-D epic. It was hatched in 1997, the year Natali made his feature debut with the sci-fit hit Cube. He saw a photo of a mouse that appeared to have a human ear growing out of its back—the product of a tissue transplant experiment. “It looked like it had crawled out of a Salvador Dali painting,” he recalls. “It was a shocking image. I knew then there was a movie in that mouse.”
Natali’s brainchild eventually grew into the most costly Canadian film on record—a $26.5-million slice of sci-fi horror starring Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody (The Pianist) and Canadian sweetheart Sarah Polley. They play power couple Clive and Elsa, genetic engineers who combine human and animal DNA to clone Dren—a chimera with double-jointed legs, Gothic wings, and an accelerated growth rate that puts her on a fast track to becoming a freakishly hot femme fatale (Delphine Chanéac).
By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, March 15, 2010 at 8:45 AM - 5 Comments
How one woman crashed the boys’ club and made Hollywood history
Barbra Streisand couldn’t contain herself. It was obvious she’d been tapped to present the Oscar for Best Director because it was expected to go to a woman for the first time in history. Even before opening the envelope, she couldn’t resist gloating at the prospect, adding as a tacky afterthought that the prize might also go to the first African-American ever to win it (Precious director Lee Daniels). Then, revealing that Kathryn Bigelow had won for The Hurt Locker, Streisand placed her hand over her heart, as if heralding the dawn of a new age, and declared: “The time has come!”
That the Academy has taken such a long time—82 years—to honour a female director makes this landmark as much an embarrassment as a triumph. And there’s no small irony in the fact that the first woman to crack Oscar’s glass ceiling prefers not to brand herself a feminist filmmaker, even if she is one. Unlike the only other women ever nominated for Best Director—Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola—Bigelow makes movies that don’t promote a feminist, or even a feminine, sensibility. She specializes in action movies populated by cowboy heroes—a gang of iconic bikers (The Loveless), a clan of vampire road warriors (Near Dark), a surfing FBI agent (Point Break), a nuclear submarine captain (K-19: The Widowmaker), and a bomb squad daredevil (The Hurt Locker). Her sole action heroine, played by Jamie Lee Curtis in Blue Steel, is a rookie cop with a gun fetish who seems to have erased her gender.
Pundits had a field day with the David-and-Goliath showdown between the soft-spoken Bigelow and her often bombastic ex-husband, Avatar director James Cameron. To drive home this Hollywood fable, the six-foot, 58-year-old athletic beauty was seated conspicuously in front of the 55-year-old Cameron at the Oscars, looking many years younger—like the trophy wife who got away, and was now about to take the trophies. But this convenient fiction is as far-fetched as the notion of her as a feminist torchbearer. Bigelow, who is now dating The Hurt Locker’s Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal, 36, seems to be on excellent terms with her ex. They never expressed a discourteous word about each other during the awards campaign. And on the red carpet, Cameron cheerfully predicted she would carry the day.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 8:00 AM - 9 Comments
What do famous Canadians—including Harper, Layton and Crosby—do when it gets hot? They don their shorts and hit the dock.
Click on the images to find out, in their own words, how each of these famous Canadians spent their summer.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, March 16, 2009 at 2:50 PM - 46 Comments
Pierre Poilievre climbed on stage, extended a hand and greeted Bernard Lord as “premier.” Noticing a couple dignitaries in the first row of seats in front of him, he smiled and struck up a conversation.
Organizers walked around handing out a workbook for “personal reflection.” Poilievre—baby-faced and not yet 30, short hair parted to the left and slick with product, wearing rimless glasses, a dark blue suit, light blue shirt and maroon-and-blue-striped tie—sat and studied his audience, a group of maybe 25, many of them his age or younger.
To his left sat Patrick Brazeau, a 34-year-old Aboriginal man, recently appointed to the Senate and the subject of various controversies. To his right, sat Fraser Macdonald, a 20-something who had already managed a campaign for federal office. At the microphone, stood Bernard Lord, emcee for this forum. In 1999, at the age of 33, Lord was elected premier of New Brunswick and was quickly hailed as a potential saviour for the federal Progressive Conservative party. Seven years later, the PC party now in the past tense, Lord was voted out of office in New Brunswick. Still charming and boyish, though with as much grey hair as black hair, he’s now a lobbyist for the telecommunications industry.
The panel, part of a weekend conservative conference in Ottawa, was entitled “Next Generation: For those new to politics, particulary students and young people—Imagine what could be, imagine what you could do.”
Though 14 years older, Lord introduced Poilievre in tones approaching reverence. “I’m very pleased to introduce Pierre Poilievre. He is an energetic and outspoken member of parliament, who gets results and is not afraid to take principled stands on difficult issues … a great example of youth, energy, results and success in Canadian politics.” Continue…