"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."
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 though Indonesia), Margaret Atwood: Once in August (1984), and a more recent documentary made after his NFB tenure, Much Ado About Something (2001). 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.
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 verite and instigating the popular Race Around the World series.
In 2004, he made a documentary All about Olive about 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 the very old lady become the world's oldest blogger, a title she held from 2006 to 2008, gaining fans around the world.
Whilst Olive failed to make it to the Guinness book of records as the world's oldest director, Madame Jeanne Calment, another of Mike's stars, did make into the records book as the world's oldest actor. That was for her role, at the age of 114, in Rubbo's 'Vincent and Me'.
"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.
Approximately 30 films of his on YouTube are about cycling with an emphasis on bikes as transport, using European-style stately sit-up bikes. He also promotes electric bikes, which he believes are a good way back to cycling for many Australians. 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.
He has set up a bicycle art site, www.situp-bike-art.com, believing that art can help promote riding bikes as transport. “When people start putting bike art on their walls”, he says, “then the image of cycling will change." Mikes Daughter Ellen has started a T-shirt collection of Mikes Bike Art. It sells under the name of Datilo and can be found through direct contact of Mike. These shirts represent prints of Mikes famous bicycle black and white lino cuts.
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. 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.
Rubbo is launching an educational product which stems from his love of storytelling. 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 begin an improvised story based on the picture at the end of the wand.
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, icon painter and fundraiser for Russian orphans) and his daughter, Ellen Rubbo who runs an environmentally friendly clothing line called 'someswedishchick'. Ellen also is an activist, and renowned hoop dancer with her promotions and entertainment company 'Ellika Enterprises'. Mike also has a son, Nicolas, living in Canada working for a top-ranked Canadian law firm, as Director, Marketing and Communications.
His brother, Mark Rubbo, is a prominent bookseller (Readings) and his sister, Anna Rubbo, a global architectural activist.