Sarah Polley's personal and surprising exploration of her parentage has made the first cut for the Oscars, named today as one of the films being considered for the best documentary Academy Award.

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Sarah Polley, seen in an archival photo with her father Michael Polley, wove together many different tales about her late mother in the doc Stories We Tell. (National Film Board of Canada)

The Toronto actress-turned-director's movie — in which she reveals how she learned the man who is her father was not her biological father — is one of 15 films the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed as semi-finalists. Also today, Stories We Tell was named best non-fiction/documentary film of the year by the New York Film Critics Circle.

The academy's full list of contenders also includes documentaries about Lance Armstrong, the Russian punk-protest band Pussy Riot, the Egyptian revolution and late photojournalist Tim Hetherington. The 15 films are:

  • 20 Feet From Stardom
  • The Act of Killing
  • The Armstrong Lie
  • Blackfish
  • The Crash Reel
  • Cutie and the Boxer
  • Dirty Wars
  • First Cousin Once Removed
  • God Loves Uganda
  • Life According to Sam
  • Pussy Riot: A Punk's Prayer
  • The Square
  • Stories We Tell
  • Tim's Vermeer
  • Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington

Next, the academy's documentary branch members will whittle the list down to a final five nominees, to be announced on Jan. 16.

The 86th Academy Awards take place in Hollywood on March 2.