Michael Rubbo

Michael Dattilo Rubbo (born 31 December 1938) is an Australian filmmaker, screenwriter, and publisher who has written and directed over 50 films in documentary and fiction. Rubbo studied at Scotch College, Melbourne, and read anthropology at Sydney University, before travelling on a Fulbright scholarship to study film at Stanford University, California where he got his MA in Communication Arts. Rubbo worked for 20 years as a documentary film director at the National Film Board of Canada before returning to Australia. Mike has recently worked for two years with his daughter, Ellen Rubbo as producer, on a 12 part series covering his lifes work. It is an archival series that teaches people how to make documentaries through Mikes six principles. The series is called Michael Rubbos Documentary Journey and has been acquired by Stanford University library/ It is also available online for individuals. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/michaelrubbosdocojourney[1]

Michael Rubbo
Michael Rubbo.jpg
Rubbo in October, 2017
Born (1938-12-31) 31 December 1938 (age 82)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Alma materScotch College, Sydney University, Stanford University
  • Filmmaker
  • artist
  • publisher
  • director
  • bike activist
Spouse(s)Katerina Rubbo
ChildrenEllen, Nicolas
AwardsDaytime Emmy (1992), Flaherty award (BAFTA) (1970)

Early careerEdit

Michael Rubbo was one of the pioneers of personal documentary and one of its bravest advocates. It has since been popularized by Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield.[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). Hired by the NFB to make films for children, Rubbo directed 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 through Indonesia), Margaret Atwood: Once in August (1984), and 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. 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, UCLA, Stanford University 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). He spent some time as the Head of Documentaries at Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Television, encouraging cinema vérité and instigating the popular Race Around the World series.

Julian AssangeEdit

Mike was involved in helping to get the release of James Richardson from a Cambodian prison in 2018. After that, collaborating with James and many others, he has been working to free Julian Assange who is facing extradition to the US.

Recent workEdit

In 2004, he made a documentary All about Olive about Australian centenarian Olive Riley, which was shown on the ABC. Born in 1899, Olive Riley went back to her birthplace, Broken Hill to tell the story of her life. She helped them with the directing. After making All about Olive, Mike helped her become the world's oldest blogger and YouTube video poster, a title she held from 2006 to 2008, gaining fans around the world.

Whilst Olive, who was given a co-directing credit failed to make it to the Guinness World Records as the world's oldest director, Jeanne Calment, the oldest human to have ever lived and another of Mike's stars, did make into the records book as the world's oldest actor. That was for her role, appearing as herself at the age of 114, in Rubbo's 'Vincent and Me'.


He has recently published a book, Travels with My art, which draws together the two major threads in his life, art and filmmaking, showing how they enrich each other. It's very much an advocacy book about the good things that art, either the making or the viewing of, can do in our lives. Information about the book and his film work is available on his website, michaelrubbo.com.au

Village filmmakerEdit

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

There are over 200 viewable clips by Rubbo online, with total views approaching 1 million. Most of his films are centered on Avoca Beach, NSW where he lives with his family, an hour and a half drive north of Sydney.

Bike activismEdit

Approximately 30 films of his on YouTube are about cycling with an emphasis on bikes as transport, using only European-style stately sit-up bikes. He also promotes electric bikes, which he believes are a good way back to cycling for many Australians.[3][4] In these films, he's also campaigned for helmet choice, believing that getting rid of Australia's compulsory helmet law will free up every day cycling. He points out that public bike share schemes, now a feature of so many cities, can't work well in Australia because of the compulsory helmet law.[5] He also expresses an extreme disdain for sport cycling in some of his YouTube videos such as road cycling, mountain biking, and track cycling,[6][7] and believes that owning and riding road bicycles, time trial bicycles, track bicycles, gravel bicycles, cyclo-cross bicycles, mountain bikes, and even hybrid bicycles—as well as wearing specific cycling clothing—should be discouraged[8][9][10][11]

He has set up a bicycle art site, www.situp-bike-art.com, believing that art can help promote riding bikes as transport, and that people should only ride Dutch type upright city bikes and upright cargo bikes. "When people start putting bike art on their walls", he says, "then the image of cycling will change."

Avoca Beach Picture TheatreEdit

For more than ten years, along with many locals, Rubbo has been involved in a campaign to preserve the low key charm of the famous single screen cinema in Avoca Beach. That cinema was recently chosen by the BBC, as one of the 10 most beautiful in the world. Mike, and many who live at Avoca believe that the cinema is an important community hub, and that the plans presently on the table, to turn it into a five screen multiplex, are the wrong way to go. To prove that single screens and twins are not dinosaurs, Mike has created, with the help of Charles Nicholls, a website called cinematourista.[12] The aim is to show that a surprising number of little cinemas are surviving and thriving, and also, to encourage people to think of such charming picture palaces as interesting tourist destinations. New South Wales has more small cinemas than any other state in Australia. They are priceless tourist assets.

Personal lifeEdit

Anna Rubbo

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.

Rubbo lives in Avoca Beach with his wife Katerina, a Russian interpreter, ESOL Teacher, icon painter/artist. She collaborates with Mike on film and art projects. His daughter Ellen Rubbo is a songwriter, producer and collaborator under the artist name Ellika Dattilo.

Ellen also has a background in Business Marketing, Events Management, Communications and PR.

Mike also has a son, Nicolas, living in Canada working for La Ruche, a crowdfunding not for profit, as VP, Development and Marketing and previously was Senior Director of Marketing for top-ranked Canadian law firm McCarthy Tétrault.

Rubbo has three sibling: Kiffy Rubbo (1944–1980) artist and gallery director, Anna Rubbo a global architectural activist and Mark Rubbo (b1948) who is managing director of Readings bookshops in Melbourne. He is a past president of the Australian Booksellers Association and was founding chair of the Melbourne Writers Festival. In 2006 he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia. In 2020 Readings won bookseller of the year

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c "Michael Rubbo". NFB Profiles. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 14 June 2012.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ "Michael Rubbo". Canadian Film Encyclopedia. Toronto International Film Festival. Archived from the original on 20 February 2014. Retrieved 14 June 2012.
  3. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNjFvL4uzO4
  4. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjDNfU_XdNs&index=5&list=PL9811231832E321ED
  5. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vmYuKcvau8
  6. ^ https://datillo.wordpress.com/2009/09/25/treating-beetle-bane
  7. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sb9jiIlN8fQ
  8. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNjFvL4uzO4&t=
  9. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHzcSv6pc-o
  10. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KYrn_NzfL4&t=115
  11. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A59HlmRqaew
  12. ^ http://www.cinematourista.com

External linksEdit