Sarah Polley and Gordon Pinsent - AWAY FROM HER press tour

 

 

Interview by Gary Dean Murray

 

 

The first thing one notices about Sarah Polley is her small stature.  Most consider directors to be these big burly men shouting instructions into megaphones.  She is a slight, very pretty woman who looks as if she could be knocked over by a light breeze.  But, in her eyes there is the biggest trait of the stereotypical image of a filmmaker she has the drive.

Sarah has been a part of the film community since she was six, but almost always in front of the camera as an actress in such films as The Sweet Hereafter, The Weight of Water and Dawn of the Dead.  She has directed two short films, but now Sarah is in town to promote her first feature length feature Away From Her.  Accompanying her on this trek is her lead actor Gordon Pinsent who plays Grant.

The story of Away From Her is of Grant and his wife Fiona (Julie Christie).  They are a settled couple with a marriage that has had its ups and downs.  But, Fiona is showing signs of Alzheimer's Disease and they decide she must go into hospital care.  The ward directors do not allow visitors for the first month and when Grant finally gets to see his beloved; she cannot remember him and is in love with another man.  The plot is how a person deals with loss of his love while still seeing her alive.  On the tale Sarah says, "It's a love story and a portrait of a marriage and a study of memory.  But, I think Alzheimer's is a really important part of the film.  A really nice by-product of making the film is that it is being used as a fund-raiser for a lot of Alzheimer's charities.  But, the thing that attracted me to this story was the study of this marriage and the love between these two people."

The film was made in Canada and the plot is based on the Alice Munro short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" that Sarah crafted into a screenplay.  On bringing the film to Dallas, Sarah commented, "It is such a strange thing to make a film in Canada based on a Canadian short story and the last thing you think is that this will play in Texas.  It's an amazing thing to make a film that will speak to a completely different place in a completely different culture.  There is nothing like the joy of showing the film and knowing that things arenít as cloistered as you think they are."

Gordon Pinsent has been in the entertainment industry for four decades.  He has done theatre, film, television and radio.  His resume includes author, playwright, author, and director.  On working with such a new director, he gentlemanly commented, "Very shortly into in you think 'this is how it should be, this is how it feels when it is right'." They had a week and a half of rehearsal before shooting.  "So by the time Day One came along," he said, "We were set to go, absolutely no qualms about the others abilities or being in their company."  Though he did find the cross-country skiing rehearsals a bit taxing.

The film also stars the enigmatic Julie Christie, a legend that Sarah has worked with before and convinced to take the role through a long series of phone calls.  Julie Christie was Sarah's first choice for the part.  She admitted that she had all the performers she conceived in writing the script for the roles they played. "I knew who I wanted for all these parts," she said.

Because she acts, Sarah can see both sides of the process.   "I think it is important to separate those two sides of my brain."

"To be making a film and watching your favorite actors do their work (was refreshing)" said Sarah, "because you get to see their process close-up in a much more intimate way than when they are your fellow actors.  A really inspiring part of the process was to watch how people put together their performances."

Grant was impressed by the confidence Sara showed on the set and said that the butterflies she may have had as an actor were gone.  "She was ready to go and that was quite something to watch.  Knowing Sara somewhat, she would not have touched it if she were not ready.  It took quite a bit of work.  Along with all the other aspects, she had to deal with herself and in so doing she won the battle.  She came through with flying colors."

And being her first choice for the role of Grant was something that Gordon Pinsent wore as a badge of honor.  "To be asked shows knowledge of the individual by the director and it is a lovely feeling."

This veteran did admit to something unusual about his role, that he didn't do a lot of preparing for the performance.   He has had relatives who experienced the situation.  He explained, "A majority of the people think, 'It isn't going to happen to us.'  I tried to think that this person would be that way.  Everything was over but the pleasantries, the wear and tear of a long marriage.  There would be dismissal; a feeling of 'can't come to grip with it'. Basically, I watched and waited for the next step to happen and react and act as I saw fit.  I didnít allow myself to become deeply immersed."

Since Sarah has been in the business for twenty years and worked with some of the most respected directors in Hollywood, there must have been things she has learned from the sets.  "The thing I have learned overall from working with that many directors that I admire," said Sarah, "is that there is no right or wrong approach to making a film.  It has to be an expression of who you are and how you communicate.  I learned mostly that you have to reinvent the process for yourself.  There is no one to copy."

And since this is not a typical genre film, there must have been obstacles in getting Away From Her made.  "It is difficult to get a movie made if is not an action movie.  You have to convince people that there is an audience out there for this kind of story.  Which seems kind of obvious to me - the idea of a love story for people of all ages to be looking ahead to what happens to love, what happens to a relationship after 44 years.  It seems universal to me.  But it is difficult to convince people that this is the kind of story that people want to see and coincidentally a few people who were financing the film were directly connected to Alzheimer's disease and had personal reasons of their own to see this expressed."

The entire process of making Away From Her was done quickly.  Explained Sarah, "It was fast because I was turned down for three years on another film.  So, by this point I was ready to explode.  I finished the script in April of 2005 and we were shooting by February 2006."

One of the scenes that Sarah had to fight for happens toward the end of the film.  Grant is watching his wife with another man and a young woman sits down beside Grant.  They begin talking and she assumes that Grant is a patient at the hospital.  He explains the entire story to the woman.  "That is one of those scenes that people want to take out," said Sarah.  "In a weird way I could identify with that girl hearing that story and being in awe of the capacity of devotion, the capacity of selflessness that this man had.  It was important for me to put in somebody looking forward at that experience with a lot of respect."

Added Gordon "Any opportunity to touch on humor helps without going overboard."
 
For her next project, Sarah is in the middle of writing.  "I've optioned one short story and I'm working on something original at the same time so I don't know which one will be."  She feels comfortable with working on one side or the other side of the camera and someday directing herself.  Since she does have political passions, her ideal, something to aim for, is to be more political.  "One of the main excitements in my life is to marry my two passions, filmmaking and politics.  But if you make a political film it has to be done extremely well.  And it never is.  I think these can be trite and literal so I feel I need a lot more experience."

On his next project, Gordon said, "I have a long desk with 8 or 10 scripts, which will never be produced.  I leave it and go on and on. And the following day you start something new.  I have saved ideas and works, a lovely phase of life."

Finally, since her film was to open against Spiderman 3 in New York and Los Angeles, it was asked if she would like to helm a big budget film.  "The more money you have as a filmmaker the less freedom you have.  I'm not open to that at this point of my life.  She pauses then continues,  "But that could change.  It is exciting that anyone would give me money to make (a big budget film)." Stopping herself, she finishes, "I feel like that this is the kind of scale of film I go and see as an audience member.  It is what I'd like to be involved in."

 


Visit the official Lionsgate AWAY FROM HER movie website by clicking here.


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