Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Media Arts and Production), 2010
Film Director and Producer
UTS Alumni Award for Excellence 2018 – Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
When the 2015 documentary Gayby Baby was banned from being shown in class time in NSW schools, it triggered a national conversation about LGBTI families. Directed by Maya Newell, the film records children’s experiences of those families – a subject close to Newell’s heart, having grown up with two mums. Her second feature, due for release next year, is about 10-year-old Arrernte boy Dujuan. They’re two very different documentaries but the goal is the same: Newell wants children to have their say.
“I'm very interested in the concept of children’s agency and what they have to teach us,” she says. “Growing up, politicians and public figures were constantly speaking about how children like me were being harmed by our parents, but not one of them sat down and asked me what I thought.”
Newell has been working in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, for eight years, creating films with Arrernte families and Elders. Not for public release, the films are an educational resource, used for passing on language and culture. “Through that work I have been privileged to witness the most incredible moments,” says Newell. “I saw children going to their Country for the first time and grandmothers teaching them songlines.”
I've always been driven by the desire for social change. I think to be a good filmmaker, it’s important to be acutely aware of the world around you and to be clear about what you want to say.
She also met Dujuan, star of the documentary she’s currently producing under the working title Kids. “Everyone has an opinion about how to ‘save’ Aboriginal kids, but this film is an opportunity to actually listen to those children,” she says. “Dujuan is an intelligent, outspoken young person who’s supported by a strong family. With the guidance of those on-screen and Arrernte advisers, it’s my intent to show the other side of the story: what it’s like to be a child who has Australia’s dark colonial history weighing on his shoulders and is navigating a complex bi-cultural world.”
Newell has just returned from the Sundance Institute Film Music and Sound Design Lab in the US, where Kids was selected for workshopping. She’s also been holding family-diversity workshops for teachers, designed to support the lesson plans the filmmakers developed to supplement Gayby Baby (the NSW government’s ban was lifted earlier this year).
“I've always been driven by the desire for social change,” says Newell, who completed a degree in Media Arts and Production at UTS to supplement the technical skills she’d learned at Sydney Film School. “At UTS, there was a focus on media, society and politics. I think to be a good filmmaker it’s important to be acutely aware of the world around you and to be clear about what you want to say.”