Monday, November 7, 2011

Vale Sarah Watt

It was certainly a sudden stab of sadness on Saturday evening when, on a train from Geelong to Melbourne as I returned from an evening dinner, I read about the passing of Australian filmmaker and artist Sarah Watt. It was common knowledge that Watt, aged 53, was sick with cancer, but I personally wasn't aware at how bad it had progressed. Recent pictures of Ms Watt tell a tale that suggests the writing was on the wall, but the quiet grace with which this talented woman battled the disease is admirable.

Sarah Watt was certainly a late bloomer to feature films. Despite making short animation films since 1990, and winning a prestigious prize from the Venice Film Festival for Small Treasures (starring Rachel Griffiths) in 1995, it wasn't until 2005 that saw Watt graduate to features with Look Both Ways. One of the finest Australian films of the decade, and surely one of the most accomplished directorial debuts I can recall, Look Both Ways was a stunning achievement. Starring Justine Clarke and, Watt's own husband, William McInnes, the film blended the flesh and blood as people dealt with depression, cancer and love with Watt's own animated inserts on the perilous nature that is our existence. Watt won the AFI Award for best screenplay and best direction (the film also won best supporting actor and the big prize for best film of 2005, beating Little Fish and The Proposition) and rightfully so. In my own personal awards ballot for that year she "won" my award (little more than a virtual gold star) for her screenplay, which says a lot for how great I think that movie is. When looking around Google I came across this wonderful profile of Watt and Clarke from The New York Times

She would only make one more film - the 2009 comedy My Year Without Sex about a woman (Sacha Horler) who must lead a life of abstinence following a debilitating aneurysm - before succumbing to bone cancer this passing weekend. This heart-tugging piece entitled "When I'm Gone..." was published in The Age just a few weeks back and discusses Watt's life living in the western suburbs of Melbourne, her films, her photography and art, her husband and their children. She had an exhibit open shortly after that article was written and she was working on a screenplay that, family wishes pending, will likely never get produced, which is sad considering Watt's ability to craft such beautifully normal people finding themselves in captivating, implosive scenarios.

Watt won many awards, mostly for Look Both Ways, plus a third AFI Award for her short Living With Happiness. This AFI tribute is particularly lovely, and it's been wonderful seeing many identities within the Australian film and art communities expressing their love for Watt and her work. At only 53 she has died young, but with Look Both Ways to her credit she had already made a film of such thrilling quality, the kind that many directors spend entire careers trying to make. RIP Sarah Watt.

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