Monday, September 30, 2013

Stories We Tell

Screen shot from Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley
A few weeks ago a student told me I needed to watch a film she had just seen called Stories We Tell. For a brief time it was available at our local indy theater - Sundance - and now, because this is the miraculous and odd era we live in - it is already available to stream from Google Play online (not to mention to purchase as DVD). So last night I finally streamed it and got a chance to see it.

She recommended it heartily without saying much about it, which leaves me now in a similar position, having watched it last night. I want to say a lot about it, but also don't want to "give away" what is revealed over time. This is a good non-spoiler summary from Rotten Tomatoes:
In this inspired, genre-twisting new film, Oscar (R)-nominated writer/director Sarah Polley discovers that the truth depends on who's telling it. Polley is both filmmaker and detective as she investigates the secrets kept by a family of storytellers. She playfully interviews and interrogates a cast of characters of varying reliability, eliciting refreshingly candid, yet mostly contradictory, answers to the same questions. As each relates their version of the family mythology, present-day recollections shift into nostalgia-tinged glimpses of their mother, who departed too soon, leaving a trail of unanswered questions. Polley unravels the paradoxes to reveal the essence of family: always complicated, warmly messy and fiercely loving. Stories We Tell explores the elusive nature of truth and memory, but at its core is a deeply personal film about how our narratives shape and define us as individuals and families, all interconnecting to paint a profound, funny and poignant picture of the larger human story.
(c) Roadside Attractions

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ghost Memory

While on retreat with Natalie Goldberg this summer in France, I sat next to a woman who is trying hard to figure out how to write a memoir about her famous father. I feel for her. My parents are deceased and almost no one knew them, though of course they have friends and family who have survived them and are people I need to navigate while working with private issues. Whether or not one's memoir is a "we-moir" as Kirin Narayan's husband called her family memoir My Family and Other Saints, our families and friends are going to be involved. If any of those people are known at any phenomenal level - as famous or otherwise public figures - that makes writing about oneself, much less one's family, all the harder.

When I read an interview with Donna M. Johnson, I immediately went to my Kindle shop and bought a ecopy of her book, Holy Ghost Girl. Despite my best attempts to leaf through my issues of Writer's Digest and Poets and Writers, I cannot seem to find the interview that drew me in. All I can tell you is that it was about her process, and a reference she made to the difficulty in truth-telling, rather than about the quite-sellable tale of her growing up in the Terrellites. I am generally not drawn to tell-all/confessional memoirs. Most of my interest is in the ordinary/mundane life, regular Joe and Jane heroes who survive or simply live. However, her compelling paragraph about truth in memoir writing drew me to her story.