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TORONTO 2011: Sarah Polley Talks Test Screening, Oscar Prospects (Q&A)

Sarah Polley
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

The Toronto native discusses debuting sophomore effort Take This Waltz with The Hollywood Reporter at her hometown film fest.

Indie It-Girl Sarah Polley launched her second feature, Take This Waltz, at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday night.

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The comedic relationship pic is a departure from the her 2006 debut Away From Her, which launched her feature directorial career after extensive acting credits with indie auteurs like David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, Terry Gilliam, Hal Hartley, Wim Wenders and Michael Winterbottom. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Polley as she readied her world premiere at Roy Thomson Hall in her home-town Toronto.

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As an actor, you’ve helped launch movies at the Toronto International Film Festival. You’ve debuted your short films and features here. Does it feel like Toronto is more than your hometown?

TIFF is the best possible launching pad for a film. For Away From Her and this film, they both have a strong sense of place. So it would have felt strange to premiere the films at any other festival besides Toronto.

Take This Waltz will bowed on a big stage at Roy Thomson Hall, under a media glare. Any nervousness?
 
A lot of people are so freaked out by Roy Thomson Hall because it is so big. But I’ve had such good experiences, both seeing films there and screening films there, that I was really happy that that was the venue we would be in. And with Away From Her, or this film, I haven’t gone through the test screening process. So TIFF is the first barometer of how people will respond to the film.

Explain your rejection of traditional test screening.

I find that whenever I’ve been in movies that have been test-screened, where people are asked to fill out questionnaires and they don’t have a stake, the film isn’t that good ultimately. Every film I’ve been in that’s been test-screened, I’ve seen the film get progressively worse with each cut. The test screening process doesn’t necessarily serve an independent creative vision.

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What is it taken out by test screening that you like to see kept in?

The strange edges of a film, all the things that can potentially offend, all the things that are challenging, they slowly get weeded out because people are asked in a questionnaire to talk about things that stand out as not being right. And things that stand out as not being right are things that I’m interested in movies.

Do yoiu poll colleagues and friends on your films?

As we go through the edit process. I show the film to other editors and writers, people whose opinion I respect and I know will be very honest with me. So it’s subject to a lot of response and feedback and criticism.

Your first feature, Away From Her, was critically and commercially successful, including Oscar nominations. Are you weighing the prospects for Take This Waltz?

I just tried to not think too much about what expectations would be, or how it would be received. On Away From Her, I really tried to focus on the film process, on trying to make the best film I could, but I had no expectations or hope that it would have a really big life. And the fact that it really ended up having a really good life was a huge surprise. But it felt it was a really big help to not focus on what would be the end result. I tried to emulate that process on this film, where I just tried to express something as genuinely and playfully as I could, while asking questions that mean something to me, and raising a conversation that I thought was interesting, without thinking about the end result. Because you really can’t control these things at all. It’s really out of your hands.