Sarah Polley

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Sarah Polley
Flickr - nicogenin - Sarah Polley 66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra).jpg
Polley at the 66th Venice International Film Festival on September 11, 2009
Born(1979-01-08) January 8, 1979 (age 35)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
OccupationFilm director, actress, screenwriter
Years active1985–present
Spouse(s)David Wharnsby (2003–2008; divorced)
David Sandomierski (2011–present)
Children2 daughters
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Sarah Polley
Flickr - nicogenin - Sarah Polley 66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra).jpg
Polley at the 66th Venice International Film Festival on September 11, 2009
Born(1979-01-08) January 8, 1979 (age 35)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
OccupationFilm director, actress, screenwriter
Years active1985–present
Spouse(s)David Wharnsby (2003–2008; divorced)
David Sandomierski (2011–present)
Children2 daughters

Sarah E. Polley OC (born January 8, 1979) is a Canadian actress and film director. Polley first attained notice in her role as Sara Stanley in the Canadian television series Road to Avonlea. She has also starred in such films as Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, Guinevere, Go, The Weight of Water, My Life Without Me, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Dawn of the Dead, Splice, and Mr. Nobody.

Polley made her feature film directorial debut with Away from Her, for which she won a Genie Award for Best Achievement in Direction and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Polley's second film, Take This Waltz, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011.[1] Her latest film, Stories We Tell, is her first feature-length documentary. It had its world premiere at the 2012 Venice Film Festival, and its North American premiere followed at the Toronto International Film Festival.[2] The Toronto Film Critics Association awarded it the $100,000 prize for best Canadian film of the year.[3]

Early life[edit]

Polley was born in Toronto, Ontario. She was the youngest of five children born to Diane Elizabeth (née MacMillan), an actress (Street Legal) and casting director who died of cancer the week of Polley's 11th birthday.[4] Polley was born to Diane and her second husband, Michael Polley, a British-born actor who became an insurance agent after he and Diane started a family.[5][6] Her mother Diane had Scottish ancestry.[7]

It was believed that Michael was the biological father of Polley as well he and Diane's older children, Mark and Joanna, though all four of Polley's siblings (including Susy Buchan and John Buchan from Diane's first marriage) often teased Polley because she bore no physical resemblance to Michael. Polley discovered as an adult that her biological father was actually Harry Gulkin, with whom her mother had had an affair (as chronicled in Polley's film, Stories We Tell).[8] Gulkin, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, is a Quebec-born film producer who produced the 1975 Canadian film Lies My Father Told Me, and had met Diane after attending a play she acted in in Montreal in 1978.[9][10][11] When Polley turned 18, she decided to follow up on suggestions from her mother's friends that her biological father might be Geoff Bowes—one of three cast mates from her mother's play in Montreal.[8] Meeting with Gulkin as just someone who could provide information about Diane in Montreal, he informed Polley of his affair with Diane.[8] Bowes and Michael Polley also confirmed, in Stories We Tell, that they had sexual relations with Diane during the run of the Montreal play.[8] Gulkin's paternity was later confirmed by a DNA test.[3][12]

Polley attended Subway Academy II, then Earl Haig Secondary School, but dropped out at age 15.[8]


Early career[edit]

Her first cinematic appearance was at the age of four, as Molly in the Disney film One Magic Christmas. At age eight, she was cast as Ramona Quimby in the television series Ramona, based on Beverly Cleary's books. That same year, she also played one of the lead characters in Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Polley burst into the public eye the following year, 1990, as Sara Stanley on the popular CBC television series Road to Avonlea. The series made her famous and financially independent, and she was hailed as "Canada's Sweetheart" by the popular press.[citation needed]

The show was picked up by the Disney Channel for distribution in the United States. At the age of 12 (around 1991), Polley attended an awards ceremony while wearing a peace sign to protest the first Gulf War. Disney executives asked her to remove it, and she refused. This soured her relationship with Disney, though she continued on Road to Avonlea until 1994.[13] The show itself ran until 1996, although Polley did return as Sara Stanley for an episode in 1995 and for the series finale.[citation needed]

Polley at the premiere of Mr. Nobody at the 2009 Venice Film Festival.

Acting career as adult[edit]

Polley appeared as Lily on the CBC television series, Straight Up. It ran from 1996–1998 and she won the Gemini Award for Best Performance in a Children's or Youth Program or Series for her role. Polley's subsequent role as Nicole Burnell in the 1997 film The Sweet Hereafter, brought her considerable attention in the United States; she was a fan favourite at the Sundance Film Festival. Her character in the film was an aspiring singer — on the soundtrack, she performed a cover of The Tragically Hip's "Courage" and Jane Siberry's "One More Colour", as well as the film's title track which she co-wrote with Mychael Danna. "Courage" was also played in the ending of an episode of Charmed, "Long Live the Queen" (Season 4 Episode 20). Polley appeared to two critically acclaimed small movies; 1998's Last Night, and the well-received 1999 film Go with budding actress Katie Holmes, to end out the 1990s.

She was cast in the role of Penny Lane in the big-budget 2000 film Almost Famous, but dropped out of the project to return to Canada for the low-budget The Law of Enclosures. Her role in the 2003 film My Life Without Me, garnered the Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in 2004. In the same year, she starred in a lead role in the stylish and successful remake of Dawn of the Dead, which was a departure from her other indie roles. In 2005 she starred in The Secret Life of Words, opposite Tim Robbins and Julie Christie. She was nominated as Best European Actress by the European Film Academy for her role as Hanna.[14]

In 2006 Polley took a role on the acclaimed series Slings and Arrows during its third and final season. Polley's father, Michael Polley was a regular on the show during its entire three season run. She served as a member of the 2007 Cannes Film Festival jury.[15] In 2008, Polley appeared as Nabby Adams in the HBO miniseries based on the life of John Adams. Polley played Elise in Jaco Van Dormael's Mr. Nobody, which was released in 2010. Critical response has praised the film's artistry and Polley's acting.[16] Later that year she also appeared in a cameo role in Bruce MacDonald's film Trigger.

Directing career[edit]

In 1999 Polley was invited to make her first short film, The Best Day of my Life, for the On the Fly 4 Film Festival. She also made a second short film that year, Don't Think Twice. Polley attended the Canadian Film Centre's directing program in 2001.

She made her feature-length film directing debut with Away from Her, based on the Alice Munro short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain. The movie, starring Julie Christie (with whom she had played in No Such Thing, 2001 and The Secret Life of Words, 2005), debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2006, as part of the TIFF's Gala showcase. Away from Her was acquired by Lionsgate for release in the US for the sum of $750,000. It drew rave reviews from Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and the three Toronto dailies, both for the performances of Christie and her co-star, Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent, and for Polley's direction. It also earned Polley a 2008 Academy Award nomination for her adapted screenplay and won the Genie Award for Best Achievement in Direction. At the 2008 Genies, she was also awarded the Claude Jutra Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement by a first-time feature film director. In 2011 her film Take This Waltz starring Michelle Williams, Luke Kirby, Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In 2012 her documentary film Stories We Tell premiered at the 69th Venice International Film Festival in competition in the Venice Days category. That same year she announced that she would be adapting Margaret Atwood's novel Alias Grace into a feature film.[17] In August 2014, during a profile of her work as a director, Polley announced that Alias Grace was being adapted into a six-part miniseries instead of a feature film.[18]

In June 2014 it was announced that she would be writing and directing an adaptation of John Green's Looking for Alaska.[19]

Polley takes pride in her work and enjoys both acting and directing but is not keen on combining the two. "I like the feeling of keeping them separate. I find that really gratifying. I can't imagine combining those. For me, I love the feeling of using different parts of my brain separately."[20]

Political and social activism[edit]

Following the row with Disney, Polley dedicated more of her efforts to politics, becoming a prominent member of the New Democratic Party, where Ontario legislator Peter Kormos was her political mentor. In 1996, she gave a nomination speech for Kormos at the ONDP leadership convention. After his death in 2013, Polley called that the "proudest moment in my life".[21]

In 1995, she lost two back teeth after being struck by a riot police officer during a protest against the Provincial Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris in Queen's Park.[6][22] She was subsequently involved with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. She has recently scaled back her political activism.[22] She was part of a group in 2001 which opposed the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. The 3rd Summit of the Americas was held in Quebec City in April 2001.[citation needed] In 2003, she was part of former Toronto mayor David Miller's transition advisory team.

In 2009, Polley directed a two-minute short film in support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. In advance of the film's airing in Canada during the 82nd Academy Awards, and following news reports that characterized the film as a marketing exercise for the margarine company Becel,[23][24][25] Polley withdrew her association with the film. "In December 2009, I made a film to be aired during the Academy Awards that I believed was to promote the Heart and Stroke Foundation. When I agreed to make this film ["The Heart"], I was thrilled, as I was proud to be associated with the work of this incredible organization. However, I have since learned that my film is also being used to promote a product. Regretfully, I am forced to remove my name from the film and disassociate myself from it. I have never actively promoted any corporate brand, and cannot do so now."[26][27][28] In response, Becel said it was a "founding sponsor" of the Heart Truth campaign and had commissioned the film "to put heart health on the radar of Canadian women".[29]

In January 2012, Polley endorsed Toronto MP Peggy Nash in the 2012 New Democratic Party leadership race to succeed Jack Layton.[30]

Personal life[edit]

Polley is an atheist.[31] On September 10, 2003, she married Canadian film editor David Wharnsby, her companion of seven years. They divorced in 2008.[32]

In 2007 Polley discovered that the man who raised her was not her biological father. The story of her mother's affair and her biological father are detailed in her documentary Stories We Tell.

On August 23, 2011, she married Canadian law clerk David Sandomierski, who is working on his PhD in law at the University of Toronto. Their daughter Eve was born on February 7, 2012.[33] In August 2014, Polley revealed that she had given birth to a second daughter.[34]



1985One Magic ChristmasMolly Monaghan
1987Tomorrow's a KillerKarla
1987Blue MonkeyEllen
1987Big Town, TheThe Big TownChristy Donaldson
1988Adventures of Baron Munchausen, TheThe Adventures of Baron MunchausenSally Salt
1989Babar: The MovieYoung CelesteVoice
1994ExoticaTracey Brown
1996Children First!
1996Joe's So Mean to JosephineJosephine
1997Sweet Hereafter, TheThe Sweet HereafterNicole Burnell
1997Hanging Garden, TheThe Hanging GardenTeen Rosemary
1997Planet of Junior Brown, TheThe Planet of Junior BrownButter
1998Jerry and TomDeb
1998Last NightJennifer 'Jenny' Wheeler
1999GuinevereHarper Sloane
1999GoRonna Martin
1999Life Before This, TheThe Life Before ThisConnie
2000This Might Be GoodShort film
2000Love Come DownSister Sarah
2000Weight of Water, TheThe Weight of WaterMaren Hontvedt
2000Law of Enclosures, TheThe Law of EnclosuresBeatty 'Beatrice'
2000Claim, TheThe ClaimHope Burn
2001No Such ThingBeatrice
2003Event, TheThe EventDana
2003My Life Without MeAnn
2003Dermott's QuestGwenShort film
2004Dawn of the DeadAna
2004I Inside, TheThe I InsideClair
2004SugarPregnant Girl
2005Don't Come KnockingSky
2005Secret Life of Words, TheThe Secret Life of WordsHanna
2005Beowulf & GrendelSelma
2009Mr. NobodyElise
2009SpliceElsa Kast
2014Every Thing Will Be FineKateFilming


1985Night HeatCindy KeatingEpisode: "The Game"
1987Screen TwoEpisode: "Heaven on Earth"
1987Hands of a StrangerSuzie HearnTV film
1987Friday the 13thMaryEpisode: "The Inheritance"
1988RamonaRamona QuimbyLead role (10 episodes)
1990Lantern HillJody TurnerTV film
1990–1994Road to AvonleaSara StanleyMain role (65 episodes)
1991Johann's Gift to ChristmasAngelTV short
1993Hidden Room, TheThe Hidden RoomAliceEpisode: "Dangerous Dreams"
1994Take Another LookAmyTV film
1990–1996Road to AvonleaSara StanleyLead role (67 episodes)
1996Straight UpLilyTV series
1998White LiesCatherine ChapmanTV film
1999Industry, TheThe IndustryRhondaEpisode: "It's a Science"
2006Slings and ArrowsSophieRecurring role (5 episodes)
2008John AdamsNabby AdamsTV miniseries

Director and writer[edit]

1999Best Day of My Life, TheThe Best Day of My LifeDirector, writer
1999Don't Think TwiceWriter, co-producer
2001I Shout LoveDirector, writer
2002All I Want for ChristmasDirector
2004Shields Stories, TheThe Shields StoriesEpisode: "The Harp" (director, writer)
2006Away from HerDirector, writer
2011Take This WaltzDirector, writer, producer
2012Stories We TellDirector, writer
AnnouncedAlias GraceDirector, writer
AnnouncedLooking For AlaskaDirector, writer

Awards and nominations[edit]

On October 16, 2010, it was announced that she would receive a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.[35] In June 2013, she received the National Arts Centre Award recognizing achievement over the past performance year at the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards, where she was the subject of a short vignette by Ann Marie Fleming entitled Stories Sarah Tells.[36] Polley was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada on December 30, 2013.[37]

Video-x-generic.svg This film-related list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.
Academy Awards
Gemini Awards
Genie Awards
Independent Spirit Awards
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards
Writers Guild of America Award for Best Documentary Screenplay


  1. ^ "TIFF 2011: U2, Brad Pitt, George Clooney Films Featured At 2011 Toronto International Film Festival". The Huffington Post. July 26, 2011. Retrieved August 25, 2011. 
  2. ^ Adam Benzine (July 23, 2012). "Exclusive: TIFF to host Polley's "Stories," Kastner's "Disco"". Realscreen. Retrieved August 8, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c "Sarah Polley doc wins Toronto critics' $100K prize". CBC News. January 8, 2013. Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  4. ^ Stevens, Dana (May 10, 2013). "Stories We Tell: Sarah Polley’s compassionate portrait of a complex, flawed woman: her mother". Retrieved May 12, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Sarah Polley Biography (1979–)". Retrieved March 27, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Brian D. Johnson. "Polley, Sarah". Retrieved March 27, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Pedigree of Polley's maternal family". Retrieved January 23, 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Polley, Sarah. "Stories We Tell: A post by Sarah Polley". blog. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved August 29, 2012. 
  9. ^ Oliver Lyttelton (August 29, 2012). "Venice Review: Sarah Polley Examines Her Own Family In Lovely, Fascinating 'Stories We Tell'". Indiewire. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Ezra Glinter (January 14, 2011). "Truth and Lies: A Q&A With Montreal Film Producer Harry Gulkin". The Forward. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  12. ^ Rachel Dodes (May 3, 2013). "Sarah Polley on Documenting Family Secrets". Speakeasy. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Yahoo! Movies". Retrieved March 27, 2010. 
  14. ^ "The Nominations". 2006. European Film Academy. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Sarah Polley". Festival de Cannes. Retrieved July 21, 2012. 
  16. ^ Topel, Fred (June 27, 2011). "LAFF Review: Mr Nobody". Screen Junkies. Break Media. Retrieved July 3, 2011. 
  17. ^ Melissa Leong (January 4, 2012). "Sarah Polley to adapt Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace". Arts. National Post. Retrieved February 4, 2014. 
  18. ^ TABACH-BANK, LAUREN. "Flipping the Script". The New York TImes. Retrieved September 13, 2014. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Exclusive: Filmmaker Sarah Polley". May 3, 2007. Retrieved March 27, 2010. 
  21. ^ Polley, Sarah (March 31, 2013). "Nominating Peter Kormos for the Ontario NDP leadership was the proudest moment of my life". Twitter. Retrieved March 31, 2013. 
  22. ^ a b "Woman on the Verge — Page 4". Toronto Life. Retrieved March 27, 2010. 
  23. ^ Katie Bailey. "Becel to Debut The Heart at Oscars". Strategy. Retrieved July 17, 2010. 
  24. ^ Gayle MacDonald. "Sarah Polley's new work gets Oscar debut". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved March 15, 2010. 
  25. ^ "Sarah Polley pulls her name from Heart and Stroke film over Becel sponsorship". Marketing Magazine. March 2, 2010. Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  26. ^ Melissa Leong (March 3, 2010). "The matter with The Heart is product endorsement". National Post. Retrieved March 7, 2010. [dead link]
  27. ^ Katherine Monk (March 3, 2010). "Sarah Polley strips name from Oscar short". Vancouver Sun. Canwest News Service. Retrieved March 7, 2010. 
  28. ^ "Polley pulls name from sponsored film". CBC News. March 2, 2010. Retrieved March 7, 2010. 
  29. ^ Jeromy Lloyd (March 3, 2010). "CTV and Becel React to Polley's Rebuke". Marketing. Retrieved March 7, 2010. 
  30. ^ "Sarah Polley picks Peggy Nash for NDP leader". CBC News. January 4, 2012. Retrieved February 27, 2012. 
  31. ^ "Woman on the Verge — Page 5". Toronto Life. October 2006. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  32. ^ "Sarah Polley — Biography". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  33. ^ Soraya Roberts (March 4, 2012). "Sarah Polley talks of her ‘whole new level’ of breastfeeding while screening latest film in Colorado". North Stars. Yahoo! Celebrity. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  34. ^
  35. ^ "2010 Inductees for The Canada Honours Announced". Canada's Walk of Fame. June 8, 2010. Retrieved June 9, 2010. 
  36. ^ "NFB shorts: Stories Sarah Tells, Canadian Famous and Daniel Lanois". Toronto Star. June 10, 2013. Retrieved June 13, 2013. 
  37. ^ "Sarah Polley, Blue Rodeo founders join Order of Canada". CBC News (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). December 30, 2013. Retrieved December 30, 2013. 
  38. ^ "Sarah Polley's 'Stories We Tell' wins Writers Guild award". CTV News (Associated Press). February 2, 2014. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 

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