Sarah Watt, best known in international film circles for writing and directing Look Both Ways, died at her Melbourne home on Friday.

While it was the extraordinary success of Look Both Ways in 2005 that she will be widely remembered for, the impression was always that leading a creative life and the love of family was much more important to her than a career in film.

Look Both Ways was one of the first films to receive investment from the Adelaide Film Festival and it started its extraordinary run of critical acclaim after opening the event early in 2005 and being subsequently voted audience favourite. Its many acknowledgements included the Australian Film Institute (AFI) Award for best film and the Discovery Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, which hosted the film’s international premiere. Watt also earned best director and best screenplay awards at the AFI Awards, the Inside Film Awards and the Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards.

Look Both Ways sold nearly US$3.1m (A$3m) worth of tickets in Australia and for a small film with no star power, this was seen as a good result: Dendy/Footprint opened it on 17 screens around the country, then widened the release to 50 screens.

It was during post-production on Look Both Ways that Watt was diagnosed with breast cancer. The awful coincidence was that the film featured a character coping with the news he had cancer. That character was played by Watt’s husband William McInnes.

Watt’s second film, My Year Without Sex, while not as well received, had her trademark mix of comedy, tragedy and everyday life. Clearly it mined her own illness: it is set over one year and features the slow rehabilitation of a character who almost dies from a brain aneurysm.

Before moving into live action features, Watt was an animator; her 1995 film Small Treasures won best short at Venice. Look Both Ways included about 20 animated sequences – about 10 minutes of screen time — depicting the inner lives of the characters. She believed animation said things “more quickly and brutally” than live action.

Watt was in her early 50s when she died. McInnes and she have two children: Clem, aged 18 and Stella, 13. The death notice placed in The Age, said she had lead a life of “courage, humour, intelligence, generosity, honesty and grace.”