Q&A with writer/director Adrian Russell Wills and producer Gillian Moody

Adrian Russel Willis and Gillian Moody. Image by Sally Flegg.

Adrian Russel Willis and Gillian Moody. Image by Sally Flegg.

Writer/director Adrian Russell Wills and producer Gillian Moody have been friends for more than 20 years.

Together, they have made projects such as doco Black Divaz and shorts Angel and Daniel’s 21st. The duo’s next project is personal: documentary Kindred for NITV, which explores their friendship and shared experience of adoption.

Adrian and Gillian share with Create NSW why it was so important for them to tell their story.

Kindred delves into over two decades of your friendship and the shared experience of adoption. What sparked the need to commit to share this combined story?

From the moment we met, we realised that our shared story was unique. Coming from the backgrounds we came from; with the journey’s we’d travelled – meeting each other was like two unicorns finding each other. It was cosmic.  There are parts to our stories that had always felt unique and distinctive, but what cemented our connection was being Aboriginal and having been adopted.

In approaching Kindred we felt it was important to have stories like ours being told, especially for other Aboriginal children and adults who have similar experiences of growing up in families away from birth families, and on different mobs ‘country’ – either through adoption or foster care.  We hope our stories show that there is always hope and possibility to connect.

While making the film, could you share with us, if there were any new discoveries you both learnt from each other?

Making this film has really shown us how much we have both been through. Finding  out who we are, where we come from, how well we have managed that journey, and at times – how hard it’s been. We have also discovered a lot from our families, which surprised us in some ways but has also affirmed us in other ways. We carry a lot of emotional vestige around being adopted – searching for our Aboriginal families, and we have always had space and time for one another to grow, and travel the rollercoaster ride of emotions that our paths have led us on. at times. It’s been a journey that explored love and family while also enduring pain and loss. The one thing people who know us always identify us together , is how close we are and how protective and supportive of one another we are, sometimes to a fault. So, discovery and lessons, always.

What First Nations themes in Kindred transcends to mainstream audiences that they will hopefully understand?

We hope Kindred provides insight into the remarkable fortitude of First Nations families, and how resilient that bond is with mob – regardless of your pathway to or from that kinship structure. We hope Kindred also provides an understanding of how important it is to find a way through your trauma and your pain, showing the potential that lies beyond – and making peace with your past.

Both of us have had similar journey’s through our issues as adopted people and we have also had very different complexities. It’s being able to withstand those trying times together and in support of each other, that we hope will shine through in the film.  We are excited to show audiences what all of our families have been able to achieve as a result of unconditional love and the strength of family and blood. We also feel our unique take on friendship and love for one another can be celebrated in all of its beauty with audiences, and that they can celebrate as we do – in a friendship that lasts a great distance and has weathered many a storm.

With any creative project there are sure to be challenges, could you share with us how you worked through them?

The biggest challenge and probably the most surprising, was how hard it was to ask our family members to be involved in the film and on camera, and to delve into such sensitive aspects of their lives. Navigating COVID and the challenges that has brought to the production at times has tested us, but in saying that and as with all production challenges that present insurmountable – are often the gift you would never have seen otherwise. That is one of the most wonderous aspects of filmmaking. You can prepare and control as much as you can, and it’s vital that you do so. But eventually you will have to let it all go in order to achieve the truth of the moment, and that is where the magic begins.

The NAIDOC 2021 theme is Heal Country! This calls for all of us to continue to seek greater protections for our lands, our waters, our sacred sites and our cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction. What does this mean to you?

Adrian: I am a Wonnarua man and my country is located in the north east of NSW around the Singleton area., This may sound funny but for someone who wasn’t raised on country, I feel I have had to carry country with me.  I have travelled around a lot for my work to all different countries and nations, and I have always held an incredibly strident jealously for other mob living on their country. Walking on their country, being with family on country, dying on country and I have always left thinking, one day I will feel that, one day I will know that feeling.

Today and particularly in making this film, I have found peace and closure in knowing that country for me is within. It’s a feeling and a mindset. You see, I have felt connection and feel a part of Gill’s country down south (Wadi Wadi). I have felt connected and apart of the Barkindji country where my mother is buried (Wilcannia). I feel connection and apart of the many other countries I have been welcomed to; the Adnyamathanha in South Australia, the Wangkumara who are my brothers and sister’s country. To me, country is the electricity running from my feet to my heart.

I have always felt like a loner who doesn’t fit or belong to anywhere, particularly because of my journey in life. It might seem distant or disconnected from other mob’s feelings when I say this, but I carry country within and can sense it and feel it when I am walking on it, regardless of whether it’s my traditional homelands or not, and where I am at in my life today.  So that’s what the theme of Heal Country means to me. My country is within me and it’s a big part of my healing.

Gill: It’s a great theme!  I am a proud Wadi Wadi woman from the South Coast NSW and have a deep respect of country. Like Adrian, I have travelled across many nations within Australia and visited lands of First Nations people internationally.  Growing up in Pittwater on Guringai Country, I often quietly gave my respects in my own way to the ancestors and elders of that land, grateful for the connection that I felt to the land, the peace I felt within its waters.

In my Wreck Bay family I see this NAIDOC theme calling for protections for our lands, our waters, our sacred sites and our cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction played out daily through my communities ownership of our lands and the shared care and co-management of Booderee National Park. I am proud of my community and my many family members who continue to Heal Country and share our stories, our knowledge with those keen to learn and walk beside us.

Kindred was supported by Screen NSW through Production Finance funding. To find out more about Screen NSW funding opportunities visit: www.screen.nsw.gov.au

Image: Adrian Russel Willis and Gillian Moody. Photo by Sally Flegg.