Sarah Polley on writing for the screen versus writing for the page

At seven years old, Sarah Polly knew she wanted to write books. By the end of the 1980s, she was already a professional child actress who would later star in several television series and star in terrific independent and Hollywood films. The Canadian filmmaker, writer and actress became an Oscar-nominated screenwriter for her 2006 film away from her. In 2012, Polley’s full-length documentary, Stories we tell, chronicled the complications of storytelling and memory, using his own family history as a starting point. Even if she wrote, the books would wait.

However, last March, after working with directors such as Egoyan Atom and Catherine Bigelow and directing actors such as Julie Christy and Michael Williams, Polley realizes his longtime dream: to publish his first book, Run towards danger. It is a visceral and incisive collection of six propulsive personal essays that deal with the exploitation of child actors, the slippery nature of memory, sexual assault, high-risk pregnancies and premature births, heartbreak , motherhood and Polley’s three-year recovery from a concussion. so serious that she transmitted the adaptation of Little woman (which eventually landed in Greta Gerwigthe hands of). Although the intimate material may lead you to think otherwise, this is not a memoir.

“I’m a big fan of self-testing; I just devoured them. It’s a shape that I love. And in my mind, any of these essays could be a standalone essay. I think it’s inevitable that this book will be interpreted and written as a memoir, and I’m sort of at peace with that, but that certainly wasn’t the intent of the book,” Polley remarks in a Zoom chat. from Toronto, where she lives with her family.

Between two books, she is currently working on the editing of her fourth feature film, an adaptation of women who talk, Miriam ToewsThe 2018 novel, which will feature Frances McDormand and Rooney Mara. In a conversation that touched on Parul Sehgalit’s New Yorker essay on “conspiracy trauma”, the wellness industry’s restrictive notion of self-care, Lauren Groffthe novel Matrixand what she looks at (force majeure, The power of the dog), Polley explores his path to writing, from acting to film.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

vanity lounge: How did you know that these six essays made up a complete book?

Sarah Polley: I’m really fascinated by the order in which you give information and how new information sheds light on a previous story. With my documentary Stories we tell, I asked what would happen if you told a story like peeling an onion: what those layers were and what order they were in. knowing that my mother had already been married, had an affair and had lost two children. Later, after hearing the story of my conception, after she had an affair, the viewer would then discover that in her past there had been an echo of that experience. The viewer would retrospectively understand the story differently.

I was really interested in the order in which I revealed information about myself in this book. And if we don’t know what we’re supposed to know, in that linear fashion, it weirdly gives us a bias in terms of processing the information that we receive, because of the assumptions that we make. You can read one essay and then the next, but maybe two essays later something sheds a different light on the stories you read, but you had to read the others in isolation before you were forced to add a another layer to that.

This led me to realize that there were bits of information that became important to understanding other essays, and they became their own essays that ended up being the heart of the book. I wrote “High Risk,” the story of my birth and relationship to my mother’s grief, almost as an afterthought. How having this high-risk pregnancy in tandem with this uncertainty about my ability to be a mother and that in dialogue with my grief around the death of my own mother and my sense of loss became an important element for me to understand. . Who was this person who had this nervous breakdown with stage fright? And who was this person who was in a really vulnerable situation and had a horrible experience with a man when she was 16? That’s not what led you to those times because I think it’s really convenient and maybe even a little offensive that someone basically gets damaged in some way and then ends up in terrible situations. I don’t think it’s as simple as that. But I think it’s a different window into a life.

Scott R. Banks