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Vale Sarah Watt

November 6, 2011

Non-Australians may not be aware of Sarah Watt, unless they are interested in Australian film. Sarah Watt is an animator-writer-photographer-film director who made a small number of well-reviewed films, one of which, My year without sex, I reviewed on this blog.

Sarah (aged 53) died on Friday from secondary bone cancer (diagnosed in 2009), having been originally diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. Just before her first diagnosis, she made the award-winning film Look both ways (2005) which gorgeously incorporated animation into live action to tell a story about a man (played by her husband William McInnes) coping with a cancer diagnosis. It’s a clever, whimsical, sad (but prescient) film about ordinary lives in an ordinary suburb. Ten years earlier, she had made the film which brought her to public attention: a short animated film called Small treasures (1995) about the loss of a baby during birth, something Sarah and William experienced. It won a short film award at the Venice Film Festival in 1995 – and gave us a sense of what she was about.

In an interview some years ago Sarah wrote of her work, that

I probably make films that are autobiographical more because I think they make better stories because they’re real and therefore more likely to, sort of, touch other people and pull other people into the story and into the drama  … When I go and see films or look at paintings or whatever, I want to be moved and touched and, and usually it’s coming from something personal in the, in the artist, so, that’s why I probably raid my own life a bit to, to make films.

If you haven’t seen a Sarah Watt film, do yourself a favour and go hire one. I can’t imagine you’d be disappointed.

In a recent interview about their jointly written (amazingly titled) book Worse things happen at sea (2011), William paid tribute to Sarah and all those who struggle with cancer. They are, he said, the bravest people I know. I think he’s right.

Vale Sarah … we’ll miss your humour, humanity and beautiful work.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2011 8:31 pm

    Indeed yes, she made beautiful films and from what I saw of her on a documentary a little while ago, she was a lovely person too.

    • November 6, 2011 9:06 pm

      Yes, her films were great weren’t they, and I think she and William were a great couple. It sounds corny but I love the mix of humanity/warmth and humour in her films. She and William seem to be well-grounded people with a clear idea of what really matters. So sad.

  2. November 6, 2011 8:34 pm

    How strange! I was just finishing reading an article about Sarah Watt when your post came through. How strong she must have been, and her work sounds important and powerful.

    • November 6, 2011 9:07 pm

      It is “important and powerful” and yet very human and accessible. If you haven’t seen any, Catherine, do try to some time.

      • November 8, 2011 7:35 pm

        Yes I must try and download something. What a sad loss.

        • November 8, 2011 9:42 pm

          Oh do see if you can. If you were in Oz right now you’d have two opportunities to see Look both ways this weekend as apparently ABC2 and SBS1 are both showing it on Saturday night. It’s a very sad loss – and moreso as she leaves two children, 18 and 13. Sad to lose your mum.

  3. November 6, 2011 9:58 pm

    I just… *hugs*

  4. November 6, 2011 10:41 pm

    Oh sad, I liked Look Both Ways and wondered when the director would bring out something else. What a miserable piece of news.

    • November 6, 2011 10:48 pm

      It is isn’t it. One is tempted to say “life is not fair” but then we know that anyhow don’t we? Did you see My year without sex? It doesn’t have quite the same – hmm, whatever description I try to put in here doesn’t do it justice – sense as Look both ways, but it has her same warmth, humour and affection for “real” people and life’s challenges.

  5. November 7, 2011 2:46 am

    I worked with her once, on a half-hour animated version of a children’s book, and she was great. McInnes would trail into the studio with the kids and she’d say, We need milk! We need bread! (Meaning: at home, their home, domestically.) And he’d go off to get the bread and milk.

    • November 7, 2011 7:52 am

      That sounds exactly the way they come across … Natural, and disorganised. They sound pretty easy-going too? what was your role, DKS?

  6. November 7, 2011 4:05 pm

    Animation inbetweener. So, a small role. We were working in someone’s converted garage and she let one of the animators, one who was keen on feng shui, hang a mirror on the wall to bounce any maladjusted qi energy back into the street. Slight disorganisation was her manner, but as a director she always seemed on top of things. I like the transcript they’ve got of this interview with her, here: http://www.abc.net.au/austory/content/2005/s1393856.htm

    “SARAH WATT: Oh, when we met, we decided we’d have a fling and I think the fling joke kind of was still probably going about three years later, so we still, it probably took that long. I don’t know, he, I was older than him and I ‘spose he used to accuse me of having all this stuff, you know, like a television and, you know, a job, stuff that he could, you know, come around and watch the TV and stuff, whereas he just had, you know, a futon on the floor and three old magazines, as far as I could figure out. So, I ‘spose there was a part of me still pretty conservative and was thinking maybe it would be nice to meet somebody who had a video recorder to go with my television, that certainly wasn’t William. But the TV broke down and we both ended up with nothing for a while so that, that actually worked, so we just kind of stuck, rather than saw each other and thought, ‘this will be good’.”

    • November 7, 2011 4:39 pm

      Oh yes, that’s the same interview I got my quote from (I think!) It’s a great interview that really gets their personalities across. No pretence there (it seems anyhow!). Animation inbetweener! You are a person of many talents DKS! I do like her tolerance for others. I think people who are disorganised in manner but on top of things are some of the easiest to be with – they tend to put no pressure on you because they don’t seem to be obsessive and yet they get things done. I have the disorganised part down pat – just wish I got on top of things faster than I do!

      • November 8, 2011 5:17 am

        Aw, you’re right, it is. I saw the word “interview” and thought of that one in the Age, which I’d already read, and so I passed over like angels eyeing blood. She had a good kind of relaxed control — she let you know if she wanted something done, but there was always that scrappiness. It wasn’t a gentle pressure, exactly, it was firm, shy, but never bullying.

        • November 8, 2011 9:46 pm

          Oh, don’t “aw” me … I really wasn’t intending to show you up! But, if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have been presented with the wonderful image of “angels eyeing blood” so I remain unrepentant.

  7. November 7, 2011 10:01 pm

    My Year Without Sex was on tele on Sat night. I watched it for the first time then. I’m not sure if it was coincidence, or rushed to air after her death. I enjoyed it. But had just had a female patient younger than me with a big aneurysm a couple of days earlier. It was bit much like reality, although I still don’t know if my patient will survive. I hadn’t heard that Sarah had cancer before I heard the news of her death. It’s so awful all these young people dying too early. I remember watching Look Both Ways at the cinema when it came out, and it was good too.

    • November 7, 2011 11:14 pm

      You knew about her first cancer though, Louise? I only heard about the return a month or so ago – there was some sort of promo on ABC TV about their being in “a fight” again, and then I heard William interviewed on ABC radio about the book (the interview I quote from above). I had no idea then that she’d be diagnosed with the secondary back in 2009 and that her time was so close to running out. The three films of hers that I’ve seen are wonderful … so Australian, and yet universally human as well.

  8. bmpermie permalink
    November 8, 2011 9:54 pm

    Well said. We will certainly miss her humour, humanity, and beautiful work.

  9. November 9, 2011 2:18 am

    So young and so sad.

    • November 9, 2011 11:37 am

      If you ever got a chance to see any of her films Stefanie, jump at it. I can’t imagine you wouldn’t like them. Very grounded but with humour and a touch of whimsy as well.

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