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Director Sarah Polley gets personal in new documentary 'Stories We Tell'

Director Sarah Polley in

Director Sarah Polley in "Stories We Tell." (Roadside Attractions) Credit: Director Sarah Polley in "Stories We Tell." (Roadside Attractions)

“Back to the Future” tapped into one of life’s great mysteries when Marty McFly went back in time and met his parents’ younger selves.

We’ve all wondered about the people who made us; who were they, once? What do their life stories say about ours?

Sarah Polley’s new documentary, “Stories We Tell,” which hits theaters on Friday, is centered on an earth-shattering revelation.

The acclaimed actress (“Dawn of the Dead,” “The Sweet Hereafter”) and writer/director (“Take This Waltz,” “Away From Her”) learned several years ago that the man she grew up believing to be her biological father wasn’t, and that her late mother had an affair with her real dad.

Amassing Super-8 re-enactments and featuring a wealth of different perspectives in the form of narration and on-camera interviews, Polley offers a brave, thoughtful look at the different ways the principal players in this seminal event and those affected some 30 years later remember and cope with it.

amNewYork spoke with Polley.

Given that this story will never really end for you, how’d you know when to finish the documentary? I guess in a strange way I think when I started making the film it was already kind of looking back. It was about a series of events that had already happened. I had decided to sort of end it in the past as opposed to in the present.

What changed while making the film? The twist and surprise of it all, this news — which could have been devastating to most people — was [something different] for my dad. This became a kind of opportunity and way of beginning to express and to write and to find himself as an artist, so I knew that’s where I wanted to end up.

This is such personal material, are you sure you’re OK with it being out there? I don’t know, to be honest. It’s a weird mixture of things. On the one hand, I feel like this process of releasing a film and talking about it and promoting a film — this is the first time I’ve ever really enjoyed that because I feel like it’s sort of an extension of the project itself, the idea that people are talking about the story and retelling the story and hearing what people’s responses are, and what questions come out of it for them, for me was part of the whole curiosity of seeing how different people approach the same material.

On the other hand? On the other hand, I feel like there is something kind of deeply uncomfortable with the idea of putting your life out there. ... I’m not sure that I’m ever going to feel like 100% this is a good idea or a good thing to be doing with my life.

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