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Michael Dattilo Rubbo (born 31 December 1938) is an Australian filmmaker who has written and directed over 50 films in documentary and fiction.

Rubbo studied anthropology at Sydney University, and then travelled on a Fulbright scholarship to study film at Stanford University, California where he got his MA in Communication Arts.[1]

Early career[edit]

"Michael Rubbo did not invent the subjective, personal documentary, which has since been popularized by Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield, but he was one of its first and bravest advocates."[1]

— Piers Handling, director, Toronto International Film Festival

Rubbo worked for 20 years as a documentary film director at National Film Board of Canada, taking time off in between films to teach both in Australia at the just opened National Film School, and U.S. universities (including Harvard University). Initially hired by the NFB to make films for children, Rubbo would direct over 40 documentaries, winning many international prizes. His best known documentaries are Sad Song of Yellow Skin (1972)) (filmed in Vietnam during the war), Waiting for Fidel (1973), Wet Earth and Warm people (a personal journey though Indonesia), Margaret Atwood: Once in August (1984), as well as a more recent documentary made after his NFB tenure, Much Ado About Something (2001)[1] Much Ado About Something explores the possibility that Christopher Marlowe was the hidden hand behind William Shakespeare. "Rubbo marshals the evidence with lucidity and zest and comes to his own original and contentious conclusion” - Suzy Baldwin, Sydney Morning Herald

Working at the NFB, Rubbo was an early pioneer in the field of metafilm, creating subjective, highly personal films that were more like personal journals than objective records of reality. Sad Song of Yellow Skin, Rubbo's reaction to the Vietnam war, is his most awarded film in this genre. That Rubbo should have pursued this vision at the National Film Board was particularly striking, as the NFB's English-language production branch had, during Rubbo's tenure, generally encouraged a much more objective approach to non-fiction film, including the use of voice-of-God narration.[2]

His films have been widely shown on TV; Much Ado About Something being repeated several times on PBS Frontline Program which still sells the film ten years after broadcast. His work is also in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) New York and film schools around the world. He has been visiting lecturer at New York University (NYU), UCLA, Stanford and the University of Florida with longer teaching periods at Harvard University and the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS). In 1973, he helped found Film Australia, an independent organization devoted to the promotion of Australian cinema.

Rubbo has also directed and written four children’s feature films including The Peanut Butter Solution (1985), Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller (1988) along with its sequel The Return of Tommy Tricker (1994), and the Daytime Emmy award winning film Vincent and Me (1990). More recently he spent some time as the Head of Documentaries at Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Television, encouraging Cinema Verite and instigating the very popular Race Around the World series.

Here is a scene from Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller: The Stamp Swap

Here are some scenes from Much Ado about Something : Was Marlowe Shakespeare?

Recent work[edit]

In 2004, He made a documentary about centenarian, Olive Riley, released as All about Olive. Born in 1899, Olive Riley went back to her birthplace, Broken Hill, co- directing with Rubbo, this story of her life. Whilst Olive failed to make it to the Guinness book of records as the world's oldest director, Madame Jeanne Calment did claim the honour of the world's oldest actor for her role in Rubbo's Vincent and Me She was 114 at the time. In fact her role is a documentary cameo since Jeanne met Van Gogh as a girl.

A scene from Vincent and Me: Madame Jeanne Calment in Vincent and Me

After making All about Olive, Mike helped the very old lady become the world's oldest blogger, a title she held from 2006 to 2008, gaining fans around the world.

Village Film Maker[edit]

"Mike is a community filmmaker; he calls himself the village film maker. His advocacy films, such as recent ones on dog owners rights, come across as moderate and reasonable in tone which makes their advocacy all the more effective." Katerina Korolkevich-Rubbo

A recent dog owners rights clip: Down on Dogs

Helping Olive to blog led to Rubbo mastering short film making skills, initially so as to be able to post Olive movie clips on YouTube.

A Youtube clip of Olive: Olive's greeting to Youtube:

There are currently over 180 viewable online, with total views approaching 1 million. Starting crudely, the films became more polished with time. By the time Olive died, and Rubbo had become a cycling advocate, his YouTube offerings had become more refined. Most of his films are centred in or around the village where he lives with his family, Avoca Beach, NSW an hour and a half north of Sydney

Bike Activism[edit]

There are currently 30 films on YouTube exploring various aspects of cycling with a particular focus on utility cycling (i.e. going from A to B by bicycle) on sit-up bikes.

Three bike-related issues dominate the films and the blog which hosts them, Firstly, electric bikes, which Rubbo believes are a seductive way back to cycling for many Australians. Secondly, the sit-up style of riding, which Rubbo believes is one key to bicycles again becoming useful transport in Australia. Thirdly, the issue of compulsory helmets concerns him.

In his films and on his blog, he has been campaigning for helmet choice ever since he made two early films on Sue Abbott. Sue went to court to fight against wearing a helmet and won.

Presently, Rubbo and colleagues are focusing on bike share schemes here and around the world, believing that not only is Bike Share the way to dramatically grow city cycling, but that it is key to bringing back helmet choice. Rubbo is convinced bike share cannot work with compulsory helmets, as now being proven in Melbourne and Brisbane and for it to survive here - and it's too valuable to lose - a helmet exemption for such bikes is something he believes is required.

A bike share Youtube clip: Bike share and helmets dont mix?

He also believes that whilst Australia lags far behind Europe and Asia in utility bike use, the key to growth may be the realization that the shopping bike is a useful ally of the small business, which is everywhere undermined by large malls. When Chambers of Commerce realise that the bike shoppers can help high streets to thrive, the place of the bike in the Australian transport mix will be assured.

Rubbo has always been a social activist. He was a fervent campaigner against the Vietnam war, running risks with his protests, and more recently as well as his bike campaign, he's been making films for his village on issues of concern.

He has recently set up a bicycle art site, believing that art can bring cachet and status to the pleasurable business of riding bikes as transport. “When people start putting bike art on their walls”, he says, “then the image of the activity will change, and we will move away from the sports dominated image cycling presently has in Australia . Rubbo has been selling his art at bike events like Newcastle Bike fest and Sydney's spring cycle meet.

A clip about some of Mike's bike drawings: Bike drawings

Avoca Beach Picture Theatre[edit]

For over ten years, Mike has been involved in a campaign to preserve the charm and originality of the famous single screen cinema in Avoca Beach. This is a passionate campaign for many in the area who are frequent patrons of the charming theatre, and regard it as equivalent to their Opera House. Many do not like the present proposal by the owners to turn it into a five screen multiplex, feeling that will destroy much of what makes the theatre special and indeed keeps it viable. Rubbo was leader of the campaign against over development up till 2006. Now, with over development again proposed, he has a more minor role but has gathered together 12 years of filming to make an overview film on the issue.

Mikes Avoca Beach Theatre clip 1: Our Little Treasure

Mikes Avoca Beach Theatre clip 2: No To Five

Spin me Stories[edit]

Rubbo is presently launching an educational product which stems from his love of storytelling; both his fiction and documentary work being rich in story. Spin me stories is a hand held device which by whirring a number of wands in front of young players, invites players to grab one, and prompted by an image at the end of the wand, begin to tell an improvised story. Another spin and the story changes direction depending on the image captured by the next player. Rubbo hopes to manufacture Spin me Stories ethically. It will be made in Australia. It will employ refugees and Aboriginal workers who will become shareholders in the company and use the spinners they make to improve their language skills Spin me Stories promotional video: Spin Me Stories

Personal life[edit]

Rubbo is the son of Australian microbiologist, Sydney Rubbo, and the grandson of the painter and teacher, Antonio Dattilo Rubbo. He has always been a painter as well as film-maker. His brother , Mark Rubbo , is a prominent bookseller ( Readings) and his sister, Anna Rubbo, a global architectual activist. Rubbo lives in Avoca Beach with his wife Katerina (a Russian interpreter, icon painter and fundraiser for Russian orphans) and his daughter, Ellen Rubbo (studying events management)[when?]. He also has a son, Nicolas, living in Canada working at McCarthy Tétrault, a top-ranked Canadian business law firm, as Director, Marketing and communications.


  1. ^ a b c "Michael Rubbo". NFB Profiles. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved June 14, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Michael Rubbo". Canadian Film Encyclopedia. Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved June 14, 2012. 

External links[edit]

Category:Australian film directors Category:Australian documentary filmmakers Category:Harvard University faculty Category:1938 births Category:Living people Category:National Film Board of Canada people Category:Fulbright Scholars Category:University of Sydney alumni Category:Stanford University alumni Category:Australian people of Italian descent