Cannes-winning director returns home | video

Emotional toll: Director Michael Rowe's friends and family worked at nursing homes in Ballarat while he was growing up.
Emotional toll: Director Michael Rowe's friends and family worked at nursing homes in Ballarat while he was growing up.

Growing up in Ballarat, Michael Rowe carefully observed the emotional toll of loved ones who worked in aged care homes.

His brother and his two best friends worked for about 15 years in different aged care homes in Ballarat as nurses, while his mother has toiled as a cook at Nazareth House for 40 years.

Now a successful film director who has called Mexico home since the age of 23, those memories have never really left Rowe, who has channelled them into his latest film, Early Winter.

The film, although set in Quebec, draws on Rowe’s experiences from his former life in Ballarat, particularly the scenes depicting life in aged-care facilities.

“Since I never went into the business, it always had the mystique of being the place everyone else talked about and I didn't know,” he said.

“I saw my brother and my two best friends weighed down by the emotional hard work of making friends, growing to love them, only to have them die. I saw them leave nursing and get into other areas that were emotionally less difficult.”

Rowe will be back in Ballarat again on October 10 for an early pre-season screening and Q&A of Early Winter, which has won a Venice Days award and is currently a contender for the upcoming AACTA Awards.

Rowe himself is a decorated director, winning the 2010 famed Caméra d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his film Leap Year.

Ironically, growing up, Rowe never thought he would direct film.

“On the contrary. I was a strange, obsessive child who, at the age of 12 decided that cinema was not art, and I wasn't interested in seeing it anymore,” he said.

“I set foot in a movie theatre again for the first time at 22. A friend who was rightly offended by my stance dragged me to see Koyaanisqatsi (a 1980s experimental film). Shortly thereafter I made enquiries about entering the film school at VCA, but was told I was too young.”

Moving to Mexico, he was accepted into a screenwriting course in Spanish.

“For eight years after that, I knocked on a lot of doors with an increasingly dog-eared copy of my feature script under my arm, until eventually I realised that much to my chagrin I would have to learn to direct and direct my own scripts if I wanted to see my screenwriting credit up on the big screen,” he said.

“So I bought a couple of books on how to direct film...quit my day job, spent my savings on a camera and some editing gear – which were stolen from my house some months later – and wrote a script for two people in a room. This became Leap Year, which won the Camara d'Or at Cannes.”

The screening and Q&A will be held at Regent Cinemas, October 10. Visit