Interview - Sarah Polley
Selina Robertson talks to Sarah Polley, Canadian actress and director of Away From Her
Sarah Polley’s directorial feature debut about the relationship between a couple who have been married for many years as they cope with Alzheimer’s is a self assured and intelligent piece of filmmaking. How did she enjoy directing? ‘You do have to fight battles,’ she says. ‘I am terrified of confrontation but there are moments when you have to fight for what you want and sometimes what you want is frankly irrational.’ She calls herself a coward and hates conflict but she presents a persona and vision that are altogether different from each other.
During her teenage years Polley was involved in political activism (Disney blacklisted her for refusing to remove a peace badge at an awards ceremony during the first Gulf War); she caught the acting bug after meeting Atom Egoyan (the executive producer on Away from Her) in the late 1990s. ‘Atom has obviously been a mentor to me, really nurturing and supportive,’ she says softly.
So why adapt this Alice Munro short story? ‘I was just so moved by it as a love story. It seemed so unique and completely opposite to the love stories that get told,’ she explains. As we talk she reveals that she read it just after her marriage to David Wharnsby (the film’s editor), therefore making it more personal. She further articulates how her grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s and spent three years in a retirement home.
It is within these institutional four walls that Polley explores the film’s themes of memory, guilt, confusion and love. Casting heavyweights Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent as the couple in distress, with Olympia Dukakis supporting, is fiercely courageous for a first time director. Polley describes Christie as ‘curious and engaged’ and says she pushed her constantly on the directorial process. She adds, ‘My one concern is that I should be creating something new, I can’t just sit around talking about something that I did last year.’
Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 27 Apr. See review.