Dir/scr: Sarah Watt.Aust. 2004. 100mins

Shrewdly commissioned bythe Adelaide Film Festival's own Investment Fund, writer-director Sarah Watt'sthoughtful and sobering debut made a big impression at the 2005 festival'sopening night, as might be expected.

But this strong hometownreception should not detract from Look Both Ways many qualities. Whilearthouse prospects at home are excellent for Footprint Films/Dendy's Augustrelease, international distributors are also urged to look at what is certainto become a quality item on specialised circuits and at festivals.

Watt's animated shorts-including Small Treasures, winner of the 1995 Baby Lion at Venice -hardly hinted at the detailed realism and humanity of her study in death andthe fear of unhappiness which manages to be both sad and uplifting.

Her intricate screenplay,already an award-winner in its pre-production form, deftly introduces at leasteight fully realised characters from the same Port Adelaide neighbourhood,linked by issues of life and death that have sprung from two separate andunresolved train accidents.

The shock of sudden,unexpected death hangs over the community, doubly reinforced for artist Meryl(Clarke) and news photographer Nick (McInnis) because both have recently losttheir fathers; later Nick also learns that he has cancer. Not, you might think,the best recipe for heart-warming romance, yet Watt's humanistic instincts aretrustworthy and a wary relationship develops between the two.

Meanwhile the reverberationsfrom the crashes widen and Watt's focus moves to other engaging characters,deftly introducing motives, families, backgrounds.

Nick's overworked editorPhil (Gilbert) forgets his young daughter's coming birthday. Reporter Andy(Hayes), locked into unhappy arrangements with his ex-wife and fending off newpossibilities with pregnant girlfriend Anna (Flanagan), finds himselfcontemplating suicide. Meanwhile an unnamed rail worker (Sobik), traumatised byhis accident, faces the distance that has developed between him and his teenagedson.

What really impressesthroughout Look Both Ways are the fine performances that Wattdraws from her ensemble cast. McInnis, handsome and troubled, makes a strongimpression; but it's Clarke who anchors the movie. Notable in recent supportingroles (Japanese Story, Danny Deckchair), here her feisty Meryl is afully rounded modern heroine, lonely but with not a shred of self-pity.

Babies are born, childrenplay, joys and sorrows are expertly intertwined. Grimness is kept at bay byWatt's eye for everyday comedy and it is her attention to the small, tellingdetails in character, production design and camera work that provides thesubtle humour. Despite the obstacles to be overcome, hope, love and laughterremain as the many characters face their uncertain futures.

Watt's traditionalhand-drawn animation sequences are used sparingly to explore the edgy, troubledimagination of Meryl, showing how the artist now imagines disasters arrivingfrom every direction.

Equally effective are thedigital montages that convey photographer Nick's troubled memories, his cancerresearch and premonitions. Fast-paced editing and a lively soundtrack maketheir mark.

Prod co: Hibiscus Films
Aust/NZ dist:
Int'l sales:
Exec prod:
Andrew Myer
Bridget Ikin
Ray Argall
Prod des:
Rita Zanchetta
Denise Haratzis
Amanda Brown
Main cast:
Justine Clarke,William McInnes, Anthony Hayes, Lisa Flanagan, Andrew S Gilbert, DanielaFarinacci, Maggie Dence, Edwin Hodgeman, Andreas Sobik