Documentaries, fact or fiction?




I used to be very adamant, that documentaries were very harsh, cold, black and white and followed suit. Just like The March of the Penguins (2005). They boldly and objectively search for truth and document actual footage that persuades us to see the truth.

However it was only after watching the beauty that is Stories We Tell (2012) written and directed by Sarah Polley, did I realise I was very wrong.

At it’s outmost level, this movie is about the life and death of Dianne Polley, as told by interviews with her family and footage of her life.

My first impression of this movie was a whirlpool of thoughts – “Her family all tell the same stories in extremely different ways. Does this mean no one really knows her? Which must mean that she has many faces? Was she deceptive and private? Or just incredibly complex?”
With these questions swimming around my mind, I was hooked!


The single most defining moment of this film, as many would agree, is when we realise the audience isn’t watching all archived footage, but most of it is reenacted. With documentaries, the general consensus is that the audience is watching archived, objective footage. With this we feel validated in forming our own opinions on what we watch. These opinions we had worked up through the whole of Stories We Tell quickly disintegrates as we realise that most of what we’ve seen has been designed and directed through another ‘lens’. And so began the teasing apart of our memories, sorting through what had to have been objective and what was reenacted.


This film at it’s core is not questioning what is real and what isn’t, or who’s right or wrong.

Instead it highlights and almost celebrates how as humans, we all perceive, process and experience things extremely differently. Thus the title, Stories We Tell.

//   The complexity of this movie aptly reflects the complexity of life.  //


FLM110 Topic 7 (2015) describes many different modes documentaries, some are:
expository, observational, interactive, reflexive, poetic and performative. Stories We Tell is a reflexive documentary, these types are presented through use of the typical  documentaries techniques (e.g. interviews, footage, voice-over).
However what sets them apart is that the filmmakers behind these types of documentaries are subjective and aim to highlight the fact that documentaries are merely representations and reconstructions of the truth. This style is considered highly interactive with the audience as they have a certain flexibility of interpretation of the ideas presented to them. 

Nicholas (2010) says that when many of the older documentaries (pre 1980’s*) and documentary makes have little creative innovation and are even corrupted by politics and agendas, it’s the independent documentary that gives life to this powerful genre of film. They spark imagination and “tell stories with verve and imagination, broaden limited horizons and awaken new possibilities.”

With no sense of resolution to who knew Dianne Polley best, Stories We Tell is a valid documentary that opens up the mind of the audience to new possibilities of perception. Documentary is an incredible film form with variance and vitality that deserves more thorough exploration and recognition than I believe is given. With this snowball of creativity well and truly on it’s way, I look forward to see what other documentaries are out there and what are to come. 


*the article described the older generation as before 1980, I don’t consider films before that as ‘old’ by any means.




Nichols, B. (2010). Introduction to Documentary (2). Bloomington, US: Indiana University Press.

FLM110 Topic 7. (2015). Medium. Sae Film and media


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s