Doco of the month: In My Blood It Runs
14 May 2020 at 8:29 am
In My Blood It Runs is a moving portrayal of what it is like as an Aboriginal child growing up in Australia today. Director Maya Newell talks to Wendy Williams about why it was a story that needed telling.
There is a moment in In My Blood it Runs, when you see 10-year-old Dujuan Hoosan lying on his bed crying, as he looks at his school report card full of Es, wondering if there is something wrong with him.
It is one of the most heart-wrenching moments in the film. One of the only times we see Dujuan, the Arrernte and Garrwa boy at the centre of the documentary, cry on camera. And an image that captures an issue at the heart of the film.
Dujuan is a child-healer, a good hunter and speaks three languages. Yet this bright young boy growing up in Alice Springs, is failing in school.
The documentary makes plain it is the education system that is failing Aboriginal children – only teaching them in English and measuring their successes by western values.
Director Maya Newell says Arrernte Elder and film advisor MK (Margaret Kemarre Turner) puts it best when she says: “They’re always telling us to make our children ready for school, but when are they going to make schools ready for our children?”
The film offers a narrative, different to the one often told in mainstream media, of talented kids, who are confident on country, and have families who love them and want them to have an education.
If there is one thing that In My Blood It Runs does, Newell believes it is to show the constant care and love for Dujuan from his family. She recalls that throughout making the film Dujuan’s mum Megan kept saying: “I just want Australians to see that we love and care about our kids.”
“It is very simple,” Newell says. “But it is still a radical idea in the country.”
Newell, whose first feature Gayby Baby sparked a national debate in Australia, says it was a story that needed to be seen by the general public.
She says the film’s message is that Aboriginal people should have the agency to control their own lives.
“It’s self-determination. Every other message comes back to that,” she says.
“That’s what happens in In My Blood It Runs, all the solutions that work for Dujuan, are those that derive from his family, not from the institutions or systems that are meant to uplift him.”
It is not just a question of education. Welfare, policing, displacement and paternalism are all intertwined in the film. We watch as Dujuan runs away from school, and faces increasing scrutiny from welfare and the police, with the spectre of Don Dale lurking in the shadows.
At the time In My Blood It Runs was filming in 2016, images of children being tortured at the Northern Territory’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre were leaked, sparking global uproar.
We watch Dujuan watching the footage. Later, Dujuan’s aunt warns him that going to juvenile prison means you end up in one of two places: “a jail cell or a coffin”.
Newell says while most Australians remember what it was like to see that footage, and how shocking the images were, watching it with Dujuan and his family had a very different resonance.
“When you are a 10-year-old who is watching this torture happening in places where your family are and your family have been, that is just shocking in a whole different way. Especially if you’re tracking towards that as an outcome,” she says.
Dujuan says he knows “lots of kids that got cruelled in juvenile”.
Throughout the film Newell also cuts to shots of archival footage of the Stolen Generation. It is clear the issues at stake are much bigger than one boy failing at school. Dujuan and his family are living alongside the ingrained effects of colonisation and dispossession. It is about history as well as about the present.
“History runs straight into all the Aboriginals. It travels all the way through from my blood pipes all the way to the brain,” Dujuan says.
Although not Indigenous herself, Newell has been making films alongside Arrernte Elders and families at not for profit Akeyulerrre for a decade.
Newell was working on another project when she first met Dujuan. This “cheeky, gorgeous child” bounded up to her and started talking about the power he had been given from his great grandfather.
“And I thought he was an amazing conduit to this world, this country, that so many Australians are not aware of,” Newell recalls.
Shot over the course of three years in Mparntwe (Alice Springs), Sandy Bore Homeland and the Borroloola community in the Northern Territory, In My Blood It Runs is the result of a collaborative process between the filmmaking team and the family. Dujuan himself is frequently behind the camera and is credited as a collaborating director. There were protocols put in place to ensure the agency and creative control sat with the families in the film.
But Newell is keen to acknowledge that the way they made the film is not new. There is a long line of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander filmmakers that have fought for the right to be involved, and centered in storytelling. She says it should be the status quo.
She also believes strongly that while documentary filmmaking has historically been a very extractive model, it doesn’t need to be.
“For us it helped that we were standing up next to our families and saying we want to make this film, but we also want to work with you on changing the inequalities and injustices that you face in an ongoing lasting manner. This project is not just a story to share your vulnerabilities. It’s a tool for change,” she says.
Following a three-day workshop on country the team and families involved with the film established a number of key issues they wanted the impact campaign to focus on: using the film to tackle racism; building support for First Nations-led education; making mainstream schools culturally safe; and building a restorative approach to juvenile justice rather than a punitive one.
As part of the campaign to raise the age of criminal liability, the team took the film to the United Nations in Geneva, where Dujuan addressed the Human Rights Council – becoming the youngest person to do so.
Newell says it was an incredible experience. For Dujuan and his family it was only their second trip overseas after attending the film’s premiere at Hot Docs in Canada.
“He worked really hard on that speech and I believe had a real impact,” Newell says.
“We got to speak to the committee on the rights of the child only moments before they went in to grill the Australian government on their child rights abuses.”
But what stands out for Newell was that amid all the chaos and adults stressing, Dujuan was just a kid, playing with his toy cars.
“[He was] rolling them up and down the official microphones. And then they called his name and he neatly put them in his pocket and did his speech,” she says.
“But it’s so devastating because it is so clear that here is an 11-year-old, he is a child, playing with his cars, and he’s come all the way to Geneva to ask our government to stop locking up 10-year-old children like him, and that sort of just hit home.”
Dujuan is now 13 and Newell says he is growing up to be an incredibly beautiful young man, supported by incredible families.
She says the film has changed all of their lives.
“I’m hoping with our support Dujuan will have different opportunities,” she says.
“There are certainly not that many 13-year-olds who have traveled the world and can address crowds of hundreds of people and talk about some of the most intimate parts of their lives and also stand up for the rights of all children in their country.”
Due to COVID-19, the team behind In My Blood It Runs has been forced to pivot the release plans to allow the film to be accessible online.
Anyone around the country can now watch the film at home by themselves, or join in a live Q&A and screening opportunity. Organisations are also encouraged to host an online screening for their workplace. See here for more information: https://inmyblooditruns.com/screenings/
Thirty per cent of all online screening profits will go to Children’s Ground and Akeyulerre Healing Centre in Alice Springs to support communities to prepare for and face the health impacts of coronavirus. A further 20 per cent will go directly towards supporting those in the film to stay safe during this uncertain time.
Each month Pro Bono Australia and Documentary Australia Foundation present a Doco of the Month, profiling powerful documentaries with social impact at their heart.
Documentary Australia Foundation is Australia’s only not-for-profit organisation that fosters social change through documentary storytelling.