May 19, 1997 12:00 PM

EMMA-KATE CROGHAN, 25, movie director

Director Emma-Kate Croghan shot her first feature, Love and Other Catastrophes, in 17 days with $37,000 and the hope it might reach a few theaters in her native Australia. Instead the widely praised tale of student love and angst played at Cannes and Sundance and is now at a theater near you.

Timing is everything: “It was frantic,” Croghan says of the quickstep shooting of her film. “We wanted it to have the energy of a screwball comedy like His Girl Friday. Those funny little black-and-white films were made in the studio system when the turnaround time was very quick.”

Just rewards: After filming wrapped; the government-sponsored Australian Film Commission threw in $300,000 to pay the cast and crew (Croghan was living off welfare) and finish the soundtrack.

Pinch me: At Cannes (or Love’s screening, the strapped-for-cash filmmaker found herself yachting with Al Pacino. “It was like zero to Hollywood on the Riviera,” she says.

Secret to success: “She’s able to catch a moment and describe it,” says Bob Aaronson, the Fox Searchlight VP who bought Low’s distribution rights for $800,000. “She’s also got a great sense of humor.”

Vitals: An only child, raised in communes in Stirling and Melbourne by her mom, Kate, a librarian who recently died of cancer. Attended Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts.

Inspiration: Seeing Truffaut’s The Four Hundred Blows as a kid. “I was too young to read the subtitles. I guess people in the audience got tired of my mom reading them out loud to me, because soon everybody was doing it together.”

Love interest: Love’s producer Stavros Andonis Efthymiou, a fellow film student. They met at a cash machine in 1992. Since her hit the couple have moved into a more upscale flat in Melbourne. “I love his mind,” Croghan says, “and he’s pretty cute-looking, I suppose.”

Pet peeve: Traveling. “I don’t want the main part of my life to be flying around, talking about my film.”

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