Filmmaker | Consultant | PhD Scholar
National Centre for Indigenous Studies (Australian National University)
Watervale Award Recipient (2016)
Professional Associate, University of Canberra (2015-2018)
Visiting Research Fellow, AIATSIS (2011-2013)
Graduate Certificate in Applied Anthropology (University of Western Australia)
Masters of Languages and Linguistics, Graduate Diploma in Translation (IPLV, Université Catholique de l'Ouest, France)
Business Diploma (British Chamber of Commerce)
Masters of Film and Television (Bond University)
APA Scholarship recipient (2010)
I came to Australia from France at the age of 22. I completed a Masters Degree in Film and Television in 2002 before setting up a film production company with my late husband, film and television director Brian McDuffie, on the Far North Coast of New South Wales. In 2005, I was approached by the Tweed Aboriginal Community to document their fight against the construction of the Tugun Bypass highway, which was going to destroy a significant cultural landscape, and produced my first documentary: Bypassed: the Erosion of our Cultural and Environmental Landscapes (2006).
Through further film projects with the Tweed community, and later with Indigenous Community Volunteers (Canberra), both as a volunteer and in my professional capacity as a filmmaker, I travelled across Australia to produce short films with and for different Aboriginal communities (ICV Short Films). In 2007, I was invited to come to the Kimberley to work with Nyikina women. Our ongoing collaboration has led to the production of more than 20 short films and documentaries, and the presentation of our films in various international venues: UNESCO Human Rights Commission (2012), Rochefort Pacifique International Festival (2014), Douarnenez Film Festival (2014), OECD Water Governance Initiative, Edinburgh (2015), World Climate Change Conference, Paris (2015), World Parks Congress, Sydney (2015), Festival du Reve de l'Aborigene, Paris (2016).
My ongoing collaboration with Nyikina women in the Kimberley over the past eight years has led me to my PhD studies in which I privilege the voices of Nyikina women, and look at how these have influenced cultural actions, economic and self-determination initiatives, through filmed interviews and narratives, using film as an advocacy tool.
Through a Foucauldian deconstruction of the historical, anthropological and development discourses that have influenced Nyikina women’s lived experiences, coupled with a strongly Indigenist methodology, I seek to empower the women in their constantly evolving social and political roles and examines their agency in an increasingly neo-colonial context. Our collaborative work has led to the presentation of our films at the Human Rights Commission in UNESCO, and at national and international film festivals and conferences.
My name is Magali McDuffie, or Magali Privat as I used to be known in France. I was born in Angers, in the beautiful Loire Valley region, south-west of Paris, where they make wine in amongst all the castles... My parents, who had themselves been denied the opportunity of pursuing an education, made sure I would have the best one I could get. I went to one of the best schools in the region, and I worked hard, because I knew they were sacrificing a lot for me. My main challenge growing up was having to wear a painful brace for seven years because of a bad scoliosis, and the ensuing bullying at school. But apart from that, life was quiet and peaceful. I was also very lucky that I had my grandparents around a lot. We lived a simple life - going to visit family and friends on the week-ends, going for walks in the fields and hills around our village, not travelling much except for summer holidays - two hours away! If I went back to my village now I would be able to tell you everything there is to be 'gleaned' there: wild apples, walnuts, asparagus, lamb's tongue lettuce growing on the river banks, the 'perce-neige' flowers ('piercing-snow' flowers as they used to be called, because they only grow in the depth of winter, and they are as white as snow...), chestnut trees, tasty mushrooms, wild strawberries... Anything that we could get from the bush would complement what my grandfather would grow in our garden. We had rabbits, pigeons and chickens too. We were almost self-sustainable when the word had not even been thought of!
Being an only child, I read a lot. And I knew the world was much bigger than the safe, insular place I lived in. I got the travel bug pretty early on - 8 years old I think I was. A school camp in the mountains of the Massif Central changed my life forever. From that moment on, I swore I would get out and see the world... By 14, I wanted to make films, but there was no future in that, I was told. So I studied the next best thing, languages - at least, I thought, I'd be able to travel! And travel I did - first through school and university exchanges, then by myself. By the age of 17 I was flying to the United States on my own, travelling in Canada, and at 19 I took my little red AX Citroen around England, Wales and Scotland, going up to the northernmost point of the British Isles... I was hooked on travelling and meeting people. Having completed a Masters Degree in French, English and German, and European politics, and lived in Germany for a year, I could not quite see how I would fit in a translator's job - a nine-to-five office position, translating instructions for washing machines or the manufacturing of yoghurt containers... There had to be something else in life. So I looked further. Australia beckoned. I had been set on going to Australia since I was seven. I had read a book about a French family travelling around Australia in the 1950s (La Famille Mahuzier en Australie), and decided that the laughing kookaburra was something I definitely had to see for myself... I was just 22 when I landed in Brisbane, to go and study at Bond University on the Gold Coast. And I finally got to study what I had wanted to do for so long: Film and Television.
There, in a rather cliche way, I met the man who was going to become my husband and the father of my only child: Brian McDuffie. He was a well-known film and television director, having directed Z Cars in England, and quintessential Australian television series such as Blue Heelers, Patrol Boat, G.P., Prisoner, A Country Practice, Pacific Drive, and more... He was also an inspiring lecturer... Obviously! A political man who was not afraid to speak his mind. For the first time, I felt I was not on my own on this planet. That somebody else actually thought like me. He also happened to be 37 years older than me, but this did not stop us. When you meet your soulmate, you just know - and I was only 24. We got married and set up our own film production company, Pandion Pictures, in a beautiful area of Northern New South Wales: the Tweed Valley. There, after my Masters Degree in Film and Television, I learned everything about filmmaking by directing, filming, producing and editing television commercials, corporate videos, short films, and documentaries. Life was exciting - we got all sorts of different film jobs: I remember in one week I was filming a National Geographic assignment, a drag race, and a corporate film for the local council! Our daughter Manon was born a few years later, in 2004. I continued filming, with her in tow - she went everywhere I went... When she was about six months old I was contacted by the local Aboriginal community, who was fighting against the construction of the Tugun Bypass, a major road which was going to destroy a significant cultural landscape, Murraba. Together, we made a documentary, my first one: Bypassed: The Erosion of our Cultural and Environmental Landscapes. I did not know it at the time, but this documentary was to set the tone for the work that I have been doing ever since...
Everything continued to happen smoothly, like it was meant to be, it seemed: I worked on more film projects with the community, met more people, then was contacted by Anne Poelina in the Kimberley to go and make a film there, The Nyikina Cultural Centre. The Canberra-based NGO, Indigenous Community Volunteers, then hired me to make a series of National Community Service Announcements and three short films about their projects: I travelled to Palm Island, Adelaide, and Parngurr. After making our first film in the Kimberley, Anne Poelina had said, come back with your family next time! So I did: in 2007, Brian, Manon and I spent three months living in Broome and the community of Balkinjirr. Manon was three years old then, and made lifelong friends at the community. Particularly a little boy called Ivan who she is still close to and considers as her brother... Little did I know that this was the last-ever holiday we would have as a family...
In June 2008, only a few months after our trip, our world collapsed. Brian, who had been so healthy, so strong, and had just had a check up the previous week, died suddenly, of a massive heart attack. Manon was only four. I had to tell her, when she woke up, that she would never see her dad again - the person that she was closest to... It was shattering to know that she would grow up without a father, and that it was only us two from then on. But in the midst of the grief, I also felt blessed to have so many friends and family rallying around us, even from afar.
I managed to stay in our beautiful home in the bush, on top of the hill, for three more years. Brian had bought that home for us, and I thought I was going to live there forever. But it was a lot of hard work living there: the maintenance took up all my free time, of which I did not have much. I had gone back to studying, to focus on something positive, and to do something useful for the Aboriginal communities I worked with. In 2010, I graduated from the University of Western Australia with a Graduate Certificate in Native Title and Cultural Heritage. I also kept our company going: my film work now revolved around environmental films, people's stories, and of course, collaborative films with Aboriginal communities. I also kept going back to the Kimberley, every year, sometimes for six months at a time. The Tweed Aboriginal community and the Kimberley mob had become our family. They guided us through the grief and the pain, through the ups and the downs, and supported us all the way. I don't know what I would have done without them. They are the special people in my life and always will be. I feel so privileged to know such amazing, inspiring people.
In 2010 I enrolled for a PhD, something I would probably not have done if I had known the amount of work it entailed... But I don't regret it. It changed my life. In 2011 I went to Canberra for three months to do some research at AIATSIS (Aboriginal Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies). I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to introduce Manon to a new environment for a short time. Little did I know... After about two weeks there, I decided that this was where we had to be. My instinct told me everything was right for us there. It tore me apart to sell our beautiful home in the hills of Stokers Siding - the home I had dreamt to have as a child, the beautiful cabin in the woods... But life beckoned, somewhere else, and I could feel it. Nyikina people call it your 'liyan' - your 'liyan' tells you. So we moved to Canberra in 2011.
Since then our life has been a whirlwind... Manon got enrolled in the only French-Australian public bilingual school in Australia, a wonderful opportunity for her to keep her cultural ties with France. On top of making films, I also started working as a tutor at the University of Canberra, teaching Documentary Production, and other Media courses. I have now become a lecturer and a Unit convenor as well. I transferred to ANU for my PhD, under the guidance of an amazing supervisor, who stuck by me and guided me all the way through... I am now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and will submit in early 2017. I have continued working with the Tweed and Kimberley communities all the way through, making advocacy films about the need for dialogue around development issues. Our neo-liberal, capitalist system is forcing us all into homogenous, routine lives in which we seem to have become robots just working to pay the bills... Indigenous epistemologies, and their ways of seeing our environment, and human connections, are so much more inspiring! So my work, as a filmmaker, and now an academic, has been to make those voices heard, so that people from all over the world can connect and come together for a better future. Yes. I am still idealistic. The beautiful, inspiring people I have in my life are proof that the world can be a better place, if we all work together. That is why I am going to Kolkata, in India, in November: I have been selected for an intensive course on Environmental Humanities. An amazing privilege.
And I eventually found out why I was supposed to be in Canberra. After seven long years on my own, I found another soulmate. I never thought that possible. Alexander Hayes has inspired me not only to keep going with what I do, but to go further, to challenge myself, and to reach for the stars. He is one of the most inspiring people I know. I am blessed.