10098 – Love that Canadian content!

Poetic directing debut for Sarah Polley
LOS ANGELES – Becoming big in Hollywood has never been Sarah Polley’s agenda. It shows in her acting choices, almost exclusively small, intimate tales made far outside the American studio system.
And it shows in the actress’ directing debut with “Away From Her,” a mature, thoughtful but downbeat drama about a woman (Julie Christie) succumbing to Alzheimer’s and the impact it has on her husband (Gordon Pinsent).
The film opens Friday, a bit of counter-programming to the blockbuster debut expected for “Spider-Man 3.”
It’s an unusual choice for a 28-year-old, a love story in life’s waning years, yet Polley has always worked beyond her age, from her days as a child actress through the acclaimed body of work in her teens and 20s.
Polley wanted to make something that reflected the passion that still can exist between lovers after 40 or 50 years together.
“That’s something I find is really missing in films that portray love between people in their 60s or 70s,” Polley said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It generally lacks chemistry, like somehow that’s all died away, and that’s just not my experience of people in their 60s and 70s, that that whole part of yourself disappears somehow.
“It’s a really pessimistic and inaccurate attitude that a lot of films have had, so it was really important for me to have that vibrancy between them, because I’ve seen it in relationships that have lasted that long. And I haven’t seen it very often in films.”
Polley’s directing career began in 1999, after she backed out of the role of Penny Lane in Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous,” a part that went to Kate Hudson.
More than a decade of impressive work in Atom Egoyan’s “The Sweet Hereafter” and “Exotica,” David Cronenberg’s “eXistenZ” and such independent films as “Go,” “The Hanging Garden” and “Guinevere” had established Polley as one of the finest young actresses around.
A Toronto native who had focused heavily on Canadian films, Polley sensed that a major Hollywood movie might pull her away from the sort of career she wanted.
“I think I knew instinctually that I was not immune to losing myself if I had that kind of high-profile life, and that was what that film was going to bring,” Polley said. “It was important to my sense of self to stay really grounded in a life that made sense to me and that was not completely out of control.
“And it’s strange, because it led directly to me figuring out that I wanted to make my own films.”
During the time she would have spent on “Almost Famous,” Polley directed a short film, the first in a series she made over the next few years. The decision also led Polley to her future husband, David Wharnsby, who was editor on that first short and all of her movies since, including “Away From Her.”
After turning down “Almost Famous,” Polley continued to act mainly in small productions, including Michael Winterbottom’s dark Western “The Claim,” Hal Hartley’s beauty-and-the-beast fantasy “No Such Thing,” Wim Wenders’ family-roots saga “Don’t Come Knocking” and two stirring films with director Isabel Coixet, “My Life Without Me” and “The Secret Life of Words.”
Polley finally relented on Hollywood movies with a surprising choice, costarring in 2004’s remake of the gory zombie flick “Dawn of the Dead.”
“Over the years, as I became more comfortable with who I was and felt less threatened about how things could kind of work my identity, I became less earnest,” Polley said. “The majority of what I do are independent, small films, but the truth is, as somebody who goes to the movies, every now and then, I do indulge myself in a big Hollywood film or a zombie movie.
“I figured, this will be a really fun three months. I really like the original. There’s no reason for me not to do this except a kind of preciousness. I don’t think I’ll spend my life doing movies like that, but it was good for me to just say, `You have nothing to prove to anyone, so just do what you want to do.'”
Polley adapted the screenplay for “Away From Her” from Alice Munro’s short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” which she read on a plane flying home from Iceland after filming “No Such Thing,” which costarred Christie.
From the start, Polley had imagined Christie, an Academy Award winner for 1965’s “Darling,” in the role.
“The decision to actually make the film was partly to see Julie play the part,” Polley said.
Christie stars as a gracefully aging woman who has come to terms with betrayals years earlier by her husband (Canadian star Pinsent). Their happy, tender twilight crumbles after she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and checks into a care facility, her memory loss and growing affection for another patient (Michael Murphy) testing the devotion of her husband.
Olympia Dukakis co-stars as Murphy’s pragmatic wife, who forges her own odd relationship with Pinsent.
Along with the characters and subject matter, “Away From Her” shows true filmmaking maturity. Unlike many films from first-time directors who grew up in an age of quick-cutting music videos, “Away From Her” has stillness and restraint in its cinematography and editing.
“It was really important to honor the tone of the story, which is very still and elegant and full of grace,” Polley said. “I also felt it would be really impertinent for me to use this story to prove my chops as a young filmmaker. It is expected almost of filmmakers especially under 35 that it will look like a music video. I just thought it would be the most inappropriate thing you could do to a story like this.”
Upcoming acting roles for Polley include the HBO miniseries “John Adams” and the film “Mr. Nobody” with Belgian director Jaco van Dormael.
She spent much of the past year promoting “Away From Her” on the film-festival circuit, where the story has resonated with audiences in the same way it did with Polley.
“It was the opposite kind of love than we usually celebrate in films, which is new love without knowledge and without hardship,” Polley said. “It’s the whole idea of love after life has had its way with you, and after you have kind of failed each other and things have gone off the rails. Yet love still somehow exists between them.”