Interview: Maya Newell, Director of 'In My Blood it Runs'

In My Blood It Runs is a documentary about Dujuan, a young First Nations boy from the Arrernte/Garrwa mobs, living in Alice Springs. Dujuan is struggling to learn western culture. English isn’t his first language, he doesn’t feel comfortable at school, he stares from a distance and wonders why he can’t live on ‘the good side of town’.

From a western perspective, Dujuan probably seems illiterate, unruly and even rude. From an Indigenous perspective, he’s quite knowledgeable. For one, Dujuan is a healer, taking pain away from his Elders and feeling it in himself and making natural bush medicines. He’s learning his language, which was almost lost, learning more words than even his father and uncles know.

In My Blood It Runs delves into the differences between Indigenous culture and western society, from a youths perspective.

Maya Newell, who directed Gayby Baby in 2015, has crafted, in collaboration with Carol, Megan, James and Dujuan, a beautifully shot, important and educational documentary. It’s as intimate as it is instrumental to giving people a snippet of understanding into how important Indigenous culture still is to Indigenous kids.

Reconciliation SA was lucky enough to speak with Maya Newell about the film.

How did this project start?

I had the privilege to get invited by the Arrernte Elders to go and make films about the kind of work their doing to educate the kids about language, culture and identity. We’d make beautiful films which were just private, for family. These were kids that would know 2 languages, and were confident walking out on the land, but then go to school when we got back into town and they felt like failures at school and I met Dujuan. He was this intelligent, witty, exuberant, enthusiastic, cheeky kid who really wanted a film made about him.
Dujuan had this beautiful quality, and a childlike wisdom, I thought, what a beautiful conduit for general Australia, Dujuan could hold their hand. So many non-Indigenous people want to learn but don’t know how. Dujuan just sees the world and articulates it in a way that through the bull, so we sat down with all the family and said how could we make this film?

The film is balanced, and shows the struggle of learning predominantly western culture in school, and you own Fist Nations culture outside of school, what are your thoughts?

I think for some of the things that are shot in school, reading that whitewashed history of Captain Cook, or the little comments that are made about reading a dreamtime story, that’s just a tiny part of the day, but when you sit with these children, and their families, what non-Indigenous people don’t understand is that those are the bits that count, those are the bits that a child remembers, and it’s degrading. We need to take responsibility in this country.

What are your thoughts on representation?

What I heard from Margaret Kemarre Turner OAM, who worked on the film, was “people always tell us to get our children ready for school, but when are the schools going to be ready for our children”. I think that really cut to the core of the film where it’s the problem is not Aboriginal people; the white people need to get their shit together and change the system.

What are the logistics like when filming in remote communities?

It’s really hard. It’s the hardest project I have ever had to work on, especially with the cultural sensitivities. In terms of filming, it wasn’t just one week here or there, I moved to Alice Springs for two years, to walk alongside families to be there as a support as well as a film maker. Dujuan loved filmmaking too, so when we were filming, he would just take the camera and interview me. He might be the next Stanley Kubrick.

Dujuan went overseas to address the UN, how unexpected was that?

We had the benefit of being selected by an organisation called Good Pitch Australia which allowed us to build a coalition of change makers to sit behind the film, throughout production, and one of the people we invited early on was Australia’s Families and Children Commissioner, Megan Mitchell, and she was planning on presenting at the convention about the rights of the child, and when she first watched the rough cut, she was like, “I’ve got this dry report, but Dujuan’s story brings my report to life, will he come to the UN and present with me” and of course from Hidden Valley to the United Nations is a pretty big trip. But, it was a beautiful of example of how collaborations and coalitions of partnership around films can blossom. So, Dujuan got to address the committee UN only hours before they grilled the Australian Government about the Human Rights Convention.

In my Blood it Runs Has Been really successful, yet it only has 4 ‘in season’ screenings in Adelaide at the one cinema, why isn’t that support for Australian films there?

Distribution for independent films and documentaries is a real challenge, cinemas don’t want to take risks they think if it’s not a massive profit making option then they don’t want to put it on. But it’s a self-prophesising cycle because if they don’t put it on and give it a chance then it can never prove them wrong. But In my Blood it Runs we’ve sold out two or three Q and A sessions in every city around to country, so hopefully it will grow in terms of word of mouth so hopefully it will have a long steady release.

What is your advice for youth that are trying to get into film making?

I think, there are lots of opportunities and scholarship in film schools so just jump on those sites and apply and don’t be shy to approach film makers and ask if you can help them, hand out with them, and learn the skills, and then as Dujuan says, over run them.

 

In my Blood it Runs is offering impact screenings, so you can and organise to host your own screening for yourself and your friends, or your colleagues. More information on that is on the website.

Aboriginal communities are invited to screen the film for free, so go to the website and make contact to organise a screening.


Mandanga Enterprises – Unique skin care products

We often hear how beauty is more than skin deep. That’s most definitely the case when it comes to the Mandanga Indigenous skin care range, which rather than being just skin and beauty products are also the distilled essence of ancient botanical knowledge born of Country and culture and caring for the land.

 

The name Mandanga is based on ‘manda’, a Western Desert word for land, which in the context of Mandanga products means ‘all wellness and goodness comes from land’.

Kerry and Michael Colbung are the founders of Mandanga Enterprises. They both have strong family and cultural ties across the Western Desert region of Australia with a cultural footprint expanding across SA, WA and into the NT. Kerry and Michael are the holder of several ancient recipes that are at the heart of Mandanga’s products.

Kerry’s late mum had extensive knowledge of bush medicines and plants and people used to seek out her and her products. Michael’s grandmother also held knowledge about Indigenous botanicals. So it’s only fitting Mandanga’s unique range of Indigenous skin care products should have its beginnings in conversations Kerry had with her mum about protecting the land and protecting and preserving her mum’s knowledge of Indigenous botanicals for future generations.

 

‘If we share the knowledge and pass on the distilled essence of that ancient wisdom through our skin care products, we also have to protect it.’

Ethical use of traditional plant knowledge and plant sovereignty is crucial to our ongoing identity and survival of our culture.

‘We’re connecting an ancient culture with a new, modern regime of commercialisation – so we can’t just hand it all over, we have a responsibility to put strong foundational protections in place.’

‘Would-be manufacturers tend to be more interested in finding out the active ingredients in the plants we use than in making the products. What they don’t get is that the plants we use, if you don’t treat them right you don’t get a good product. We protect the environment and make sure that we are not stripping plant stocks on Country.’

 

‘Our great grandmothers and great grandfathers brought this knowledge into the missions and preserved and kept it secret under extreme regimes of colonisation. We have to prevent the plants and the cultural knowledge from being exploited as well as teach our children and grandchildren to retain their identity, traditional knowledge so when then go on Country they know how to connect, respect it and come back stronger in body and spirit.’

 

Kerry and Michael will be at the Reconciliation SA Breakfast on the 13th February 2020 and you can experience their massage oils, balms and samples their teas.