Sarah Polley Grateful For Female Filmmakers Telling Her “Here’s How Fierce You’re Going To Have To Be” As A Director

Sarah Polley, at the Telluride Film Festival for the world premiere of Women Talkingher latest film as a director, acknowledged how lucky she was as an actress to have worked with so many female filmmakers. They told her to be “fierce” when they saw that she wanted to work behind the camera.

Women Talking, based on Miriam Toew’s celebrated novel about a group of Mennonite women having to confront sexual assaults committed by men feeding their desires, is a powerhouse exploration of the female imagination.

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“This film began with three women talking a lot,” Polley said. She was referring to Dede Gardner as producer through Plan B Entertainment, and Frances McDormand as a cast member and producer via her Hear/Say Productions, and Polley herself.

Polley cited three female directors she’d worked with who helped pave the way for her as a director: Audrey Wells on her 1999 feature Guinevere; Kathryn Bigelow, whom Polley appeared for in the director’s The Weight of Water in 2000; and director Isabel Coixet’s films My Life Without Me in 2003 and The Secret Life of Words in 2005.

“What happened with that generation of female filmmakers is when they saw someone coming up who was beginning to show any interest (in directing), those women grabbed onto me and said, ’You’re doing it,’ and here’s how fierce you’re going to have to be about it! So there was mentorship, and I had those role models,” Polley said, speaking in an onstage conversation at the Telluride Film Festival. She was being presented with the festival’s Silver Medallion honor by Frances McDormand.

Polley also gave credit to director Atom Egoyan, who directed her in several films, including The Sweet Hereafter, and served as executive producer of Polley’s first full-length directorial feature, Away from Her. 

She said that Egoyan “invested an enormous amount of time into me as I started to make my own short films.”

Polley also noted that that when she’s “really at a loss,” Egoyan “still is my 911 call.”

However, Polley confessed that it took her a long time to get over the fears she had in the business, admitting that working as a child actor “wasn’t the most positive experience.”

She added ,”There were exceptions to the rule, there always are …but overall, it wasn’t a great experience, and in some cases, quite traumatic.’’

Those experiences led her to having a ‘kind of allergic reaction to success,” and that if something went well for her, “It brought me right back to the experience of being a child actor and other people being invested in what I was doing before I was ready for that. It took a really, really long time to realize how much I loved doing this and to, sort of, not let that habitual fear or aversion dictate the choices I’ve made in my life. I think that was a relatively recent experience of just realizing the unbelievable luck of getting to tell stories.”

With that, Polley introduced her dynamic Women Talking cast, which included McDormand, Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jesse Buckley, Liv McNeil ,Kate Hallett, Michelle McLeod, Sheila McCarthy, and Judith Ivey.

Ben Whishaw, the film’s sole key male actor, hadn’t been able to travel to the Colorado Rockies for the screening.

Women Talking will be released through United Artists from December 2, following a string of appearances at festivals throughout the fall.

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