Feature

We Need to Talk About ‘True Stories’…

Could there be a better way of telling these real-life tales?

Sarah Callen
Dec 12, 2020 · 9 min read

The Difficulties of Handling a True Story

TThough films “based on a true story” tend to attract a lot of attention, they need to be handled with extra care. And because the film centres around a person who really lived, those who knew that person will have an opinion on how their story was told.

Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln (2012) — via IMDb

Responding to a True Story

AsAs I’ve given more thought to this ‘true story’ genre, I’ve realised that these films don’t stay with me like fictional ones. When I know a film is based on real events, I tend to mentally check out. Instead of taking an active part in imagining myself in the story, I take a more passive role. I become an observer of the events. I no longer see myself on a journey with the characters; instead, I’m plopping myself into someone’s biography.

Robert De Niro in Raging Bull (1980) — via rogerebert.com

Being Surprised by a True Story

TThe “unexpected true story” is my favorite version of this genre. These are films centred on less famous names that don’t let you know it’s based on a true story until the end or, sometimes, not at all! After sitting with a group of extraordinary characters for 90+ minutes, it can be a shock to find out they weren’t entirely a work of fiction. When a film ends by disclosing this information, it always sets me on a researching spree.

Haley Bennett, Gabriel Basso, and Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy | Lacey Terrell/Netflix
Haley Bennett, Gabriel Basso, and Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy | Lacey Terrell/Netflix
Haley Bennett, Gabriel Basso & Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy (2020) © Lacey Terrell/Netflix

A Better Way of Telling a True Story

OOne of the questions I’ve been asking myself about the true story trend is this: how does one select the right true story to bring to the screen? There are billions of true stories out there, so how do you determine if you want to bring it to the fore as fact or fiction?

Glenn Close & Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy (2020) © Lacey Terrell/Netflix

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