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Making her feature directing debut with Look Both Ways, Sarah Watt shows she knows what to do in a medium that has opened her eyes to exciting new possibilities, fusing live action and animation, happiness and death, certainty and insecurity, she reveals to Andrew L. Urban.

In a foreign land, Sarah Watt is more likely to visit an art gallery than a cinema; she sees herself more as an artist who draws, than a filmmaker. Yet her first feature film, Look Both Ways, has shown her to be a true natural, not only at creating character and telling story via moving images – and not just live action ones – but at working within the ulcerating production process. Judging by early reactions to her film, she sure knows what to do.

“I really loved the process,” she says smiling modestly, “especially working with the cast and crew. There were lots of jokes on set … it was a bit like school camp,” she laughs, “and we were all very exhausted and developed a really good camaraderie.”

The film’s signature style is a series of animated drawings by Watt that were hand painted by Clare Callinan; these tend to represent brief snatches of bad fantasies of characters who imagine for a moment that they are about to suffer a dreadful death. Or brain tumours. Or cancers gobbling up their cells…. For all that, they are far from gruesome; they inject dark humour and treat the fears as a normal manifestation of day to day life. The texture they create is a unique aspect of the film.

"pondering a new film idea"

“It’s a very enticing medium and I’m excited about what can be done.” She says this with a glint in her eye: “Next time, I’d really like to play!” It’s said with the enthusiasm of an artist finding a new colour to use. And there almost certainly will be a next time – probably quite soon. She’s already “pondering a new film idea … it’s something to do with the new religion and the emphasis of religion in politics …” 

From someone so intensely involved with pictures, drawings and images, this will be a fascinating piece of cinema… but we’re ahead of ourselves. Back to the room in the Sydney CBD hotel, where portraits of Thailand’s King and Queen adorn the lobby (it’s privately owned by a Thai businessman), and Sarah Watt is wrangled through her first ever movie media junket, saying goodbye to Margaret Pomeranz and hello to your reporter, all in one breath.

It’s good practice for her upcoming trip to the Toronto film festival (Sept 8 – 17), where Look Both Ways joins another new Australian film, Little Fish (dir. Rowan Woods), in the program.

“I’ve had short films in Toronto before, but this is pretty scary,” she says. “It’s a very Australian film … will it travel?” she wonders. Look Both Ways develops ideas seeded in Watt’s animated short, Living With Happiness. 

The film is set over a hot Australian country town weekend, as several people have to deal with unexpected events and find their lives intersecting. Nick (William McInnes) visits a doctor for a routine medical and is given a devastating diagnosis but has to wait until Monday for specialist advice. Meryl (Justine Clark), returning from a family funeral, has until Monday to finish her art project or lose her job. Andy (Anthony Hayes) is thrown by his girlfriend’s ultimatum and has until Monday to consider the news of her unplanned pregnancy, while dealing with ex wife and children. He and Nick and Meryl are also connected through a tragic rail accident.

"a lightness of touch that deceives us"

The screenplay explores its characters at a moment in time when they each face issues of life and death, but it does so with a lightness of touch that deceives us: it’s not about death, but about our fears, our weaknesses and our enormous reserves of humanity that can drag us out of the jaws of death into the sunlight of life. Or as her short film title seems to suggest, to Living With Happiness.

When asked whether she is a glass half full or glass half empty sort of person, she replies, tellingly: “I aim to be a half full sort of person, but it’s a struggle. There are so many things not right in the world.” But she hastens to add that “functionally, I’m a happy person and I like most people. They’re all good and try to do the right things … at least as individuals.” Collectively, we’re less admirable, she fears. “But if you struggle to see the glass half full, it’s really great to see when it is.”

Published August 18, 2005

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Sarah Watt


Look Both Ways


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