Telling our stories - Shawn Loughlin editorial
Keith has not yet sent me his column for the week, so, at the risk of writing the exact same column as he will/has, albeit poorly, here goes. Seeing Toronto native Sarah Polley win an Academy Award on Sunday night for writing Women Talking was a great moment in Canadian storytelling.
Keith, the co-founder of both The Citizen and of the Blyth Festival, in addition to being a celebrated playwright in his own right, has put food on his table for generations by telling Canadian stories. That’s why it is no surprise that when the opportunity strikes, he will often spend his column space in celebration of the telling of Canadian stories. Sure, he’ll laud Canadians who are successful in any aspect of life, but Canadians who carve their own path by telling our stories, not the stories of the United States or elsewhere, hold a special place in his heart.
Polley is an uncompromising Canadian artist. Long celebrated as a great actor in both Canadian and American films, dating back to her childhood (she was just nine years old when she acted in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), Polley has since focused her talent on writing and directing and it has been through those roles that she has truly championed the telling of Canadian stories.
Sure, one of her first acting roles was in Road to Avonlea, based on the novels of Lucy Maud Montgomery, but in her role as one of the most exciting and promising up-and-coming writer/directors in the film industry, she has focused almost exclusively on Canada and telling the stories of her native land.
The first full-length movie she directed was Away from Her. This project is one that is near and dear to the hearts of Huron County residents as it’s based on a short story by Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro, one of the area’s most celebrated artists. Polley wrote the screenplay for that film, which earned her an Academy Award nomination back in 2006.
She would write a television miniseries called Alias Grace, based on a novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, and now she’s won an Oscar for adapting the work of Miriam Toews, another Canadian author.
As I was growing up, there was always a bit of a joke about Canadian television or movies that you could just tell it was Canadian by looking at it. Canadian productions from years ago just didn’t have the same polish of their American counterparts. So, as a young Canadian developing an interest in film and television, I was almost conditioned to think of our stories as being less than.
Then I was introduced to directors like Atom Egoyan and Bruce McDonald and I started to believe that Canadian stories could be interesting as well. Of course, there are more, but for me, those were two of the directors whose work found me at that age. (In my younger years, surely for the best, I was unfamiliar with the works of the great creator of the body horror genre, David Cronenberg.)
The Blyth Festival has this goal baked into its very DNA. Its mandate of telling Canadian stories has left it largely peerless, with the reputation of a theatre that, for better or worse, tells Canadian stories to Canadians.
While other Canadians - like documentarian Daniel Roher, makeup artist Adrien Morot and Best Actor Award winner Brendan Fraser - were honoured on Sunday night, the fact that Polley did so while telling a Canadian story, something she’s clearly made her life’s work, makes it that much more special. Our stories can be interesting, thrilling and touching - the world is realizing that.