Run Towards the Danger, a new book of essays by a Canadian filmmaker, is out now.
On screen, actor Sarah Polley was often cast as the fierce protagonist veering straight into peril, whether it was an oncoming bus or some sort of explosion.
Off screen, however, she says she feared confronting certain things, including a traumatic experience with former CBC radio personality Jian Ghomeshi.
The 43-year-old filmmaker and Oscar-nominated screenwriter says a brain injury in 2015 became a catalyst for her to address some past trauma. The result is a new collection of essays, Run Towards the Danger (out March 1), which Polley says took years to write.
“These are the stories that haunted me,” said Polley in an interview with Matt Galloway, host of CBC Radio’s The Current.
She is sharing them because “I think I’m strong enough to handle this now.”
Sarah Polley was frequently portrayed as the fearless protagonist rushing headlong into danger, whether it was an incoming bus or an explosion.
Off-screen, she says she was afraid of tackling some issues, such as a traumatising encounter with former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi.
A brain injury in 2015, according to the 43-year-old filmmaker and Oscar-nominated screenwriter, served as a trigger for her to address some prior trauma. The result is Run Towards the Danger, a new collection of articles that Polley claims took years to complete.
In an interview with Matt Galloway, host of CBC Radio’s The Current, Polley said, “These are the stories that tormented me.”
By the 1990s, Polley had landed her first film role at the age of four and was a regular on Canadian television. In Road to Avonlea, she played the strong-willed Sara Stanley, and in The Sweet Hereafter, she played a youngster disabled by a bus accident and sexually molested. Polley went on to direct films such as Away From Her (2006), which was nominated for an Academy Award, and Stories We Tell, which was nominated for an Academy Award (2012).
While Polley’s book is candid about her career in film and television, the most alarming article is about an alleged sexual assault with Ghomeshi that she claims she has carried with her since she was 16. Polley describes how Ghomeshi, who was 28 at the time, harmed her during a sexual encounter at his flat and rejected her cries to stop in the article “The Woman Who Stayed Silent.”
Ghomeshi is a former member of Moxy Früvous, a folk-pop band, and the host of the CBC Radio show Q.
Several women accused him of sexual assault and harassment in 2014, and he was charged. Ghomeshi claimed that the instances were mutually agreed upon. In 2016, he was found not guilty of four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking involving three victims.
Ghomeshi’s former lawyer Marie Heinen, as well as Roqe Media, were contacted by the CBC several times for a reaction to Polley’s charges.
‘I had a hard time with this.’
Polley pondered coming out to tell her tale during Ghomeshi’s trial.
“I had a lot of trouble with this,” she admitted.
She claims, however, that lawyers she spoke with informed her she’d be a “poor” witness due to contradictions in her narrative and how she interacted with Ghomeshi as a guest on his radio show in the years after the alleged occurrence.
“Your case will not lend credence to the women who have come forward because you will go through exactly the same evisceration that they would get set up for,” Polley was told.
“I had a lot of knowledge about where I was going,” she explained.
“I knew I couldn’t take it because I had two small children.”
Following Ghomeshi’s acquittal in 2016, Ontario Judge William Horkins slammed the complainants, stating their “deceptive and manipulative” evidence cast doubt on Ghomeshi’s culpability.
“A lot of folks who come forward with situations like this are subjected to some sort of examination,” Polley added.
“If you can’t remember every detail exactly, if you can’t generate an impregnable image,” she added, you won’t be taken seriously.
How does memory help victims?
Polley feels that the principle of innocence until proven guilty is important, but that the adversarial court system might re-traumatize victims.
“Do women have to be destroyed in order to hunt for those shadows and inconsistencies?” She stated how things that were too destructive to her memory were blotted out, making it difficult to remember exact details regarding terrible experiences.
“The brain works hard to protect you from what’s happened and to make what happens after survivable. And that means obliterating a lot… I think it’s really, really messy.”
Polley has had traumatic memories return from her time grieving her mother — who died of cancer when Polley was 11 — and from on-set terrors while filming explosive scenes in Terry Gilliam’s 1988 film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
Stories kept in a ‘dark cave’
The book marks a new chapter for Polley, who was injured six years ago when a large fire extinguisher, which was hung on the wall, fell on her head as she bent over a lost-and-found box at a Toronto community centre.
According to Polley, it resulted in three and a half years of struggle. According to her, the first year following the accident was extremely difficult because her brain was unable to cope with noise and light.
A doctor called Michael Collins counselled Polley to keep doing what was tough while she was in a clinic at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre.
“I needed to do more of whatever was causing my discomfort. Whatever I was trying to avoid, my brain was becoming less capable of dealing with it “she stated
So Polley pushed herself to go to the supermarket, despite the fact that the store lights made her feel like her head was about to burst. Her brain, she claims, is now in good shape.
The book came about as a result of her confronting other painful aspects of her life, memories she claims she kept hidden in a “black cave.”
“I’ve been afraid to tell these experiences to anyone, let alone myself.”