Connecting Hearts: An Interview with Adrian Russell Wills and Gillian Moody


Winner of MIFF’s inaugural First Nations Film Creative Award, presented in collaboration with Kearney Group, Kindred is at once a poignant account of being an Aboriginal child raised in a white world and a celebration of friendship, unconditional love and resilience.

In the lead-up to its small-screen premiere on NITV and SBS on Demand during National Reconciliation Week, we speak to directors Adrian Russell Wills and Gillian Moody about the risks and rewards of recounting life experiences on film as well as the ongoing importance of empowering First Nations storytellers.

Kindred deals with both Australia’s dark colonial past and the touching depth of your friendship. How did you manage to balance these two elements?

Adrian: For me, I felt that we focused on telling our personal stories and family accounts of our adoptions, and within that exploration, many aspects of this country’s colonial past comes through thematically and is imbued within our experiences. I don’t think any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander could tell their story without the colonial history running through the bloodstream of their narrative.

Gillian: For both of us and our families, the realities of Australia’s past are ever-present in our lives, and as filmmakers, we knew we couldn’t shy away from speaking about how the past has affected us all. But we wanted to show the light that we have in our lives, too. Much of that light is wrapped up in our friendship and the relationships we have with our birth families; for me, my adopted family; and together, our chosen family. Central to the film is connections – connection to people, connection to land and place – which we visually used to weave us and our audiences through our story. This, coupled with our beautiful soundscape and music composition, allowed for moments of breath, little insights into how we balance ourselves within our world.

As collaborators, you first teamed up on the short films Angel and Daniel’s 21st as well as on the feature documentary Black Divaz. What was it like to then turn the camera on yourselves?

A: Turning the camera on ourselves was always going to be difficult; we are not the type of people who want to be the central focus. But I think we also knew both our stories were unique, and for many years, when people would ask us about our friendship or how we are both so connected, they were always very interested by the adoption angle of our story – it seemed it was something that others found extremely interesting. We also wanted to celebrate that uniqueness and very generous open-heartedness that adopting requires from families.

G: Although daunting to be in front of the camera, we wanted audiences to feel what our world is like for us. Rather than do formal interviews of each other, we chose to sit down and have a direct conversation with our audience – a train-of-thought telling of our stories that, I suppose, in some ways was inspired by all the times we have had those yarns with people over the years that created an intrigue into adoption, our friendship and our relationships with family.

The film weaves together archival footage, recreations and interviews, and is shot across numerous locations across the country. Could you tell us about the process of making this tremendous project a reality?

A: We made this film across the space of four years, from development to completion. It was a very complex and multilayered approach in terms of style and tone, but I also think that is something that both Gill and I see as normal – and, in fact, easier to explain and understand. By that, I mean the various elements that we included, and it was also because they were the tools available to us to show and explain our stories, which spanned across 50 years of living.

Above: Kindred  |  Header: Co-directors Gillian Moody and Adrian Russell Wills

G: I was very fortunate to have access to home movies. My adoptive dad Merv had a Bolex 16mm camera with which he would gather moments of our family life; using these also allowed me to have his voice in the film. And as a young woman just starting out in the media industry, I also knew that I wanted to film my first meeting with my birth mother as a keepsake, much like the home movies my dad had created for my Moody family. We knew that this film wouldn’t have been the same without our families’ involvement and truths from their hearts, and we were very fortunate to have their support

In an interview, you’ve said: “Kindred explores what it feels like living in two worlds, one black and one white.” Why is it important that the local screen sector continue to showcase and support First Nations stories?

A: As with any human experience, you can’t move forward and grow into your future without making peace with your past. There are some things we can change, and there are some things we can’t – and when you look at that as a country, regardless of what Australia becomes in the future, it will never be at peace until it acknowledges how it came into existence. You can run and hide as long as you want, but eventually, it will catch up with you. That is why I think First Nations stories are at the core of this country’s narrative; no matter what stories are to come, and what stories will be told in the future, it will always be coloured by its past and the original storytellers.

You won MIFF’s First Nations Film Creative Award last year. How has this award impacted the trajectories of your film and of your filmmaking careers?

A: It was a tremendous honour to be the inaugural recipients of such an amazing award. It certainly means a lot to both of us because it recognised our skills as storytellers and filmmakers, but it also validated us and our families. By this, I mean: it made us feel seen and heard, and it made our story feel important and useful. That it can help inspire, encourage and maybe change the way our audience, and the MIFF audience, see themselves and their relationships with family and home. It also shows the film sector that First Nations stories are important to the festival and to your amazing partners the Kearney Group.

G: As Adrian says, it was a great honour to be the inaugural recipients of MIFF’s First Nations Film Creative Award. To have this acknowledgement of our individual careers to date was amazing, but to gain this award for our work as co-directors on our personal story with Kindred was very humbling and filled us with pride. Having this new award showed that MIFF and Kearney Group, who have partnered on it, both value First Nations voices in our screen industry and want to encourage all to engage with our stories. On an industry and marketing level, the award lets it be known that this film and its filmmakers are something to look out for. As we head towards a free-to-air screening on NITV and following on to SBS on Demand, we hope that people will tune in to watch.

Speaking of, Kindred screens on NITV and SBS on Demand on Sunday 2 June, as part of National Reconciliation Week. What do you hope viewers will take away from the documentary?

A: I am really excited for our mob to see this film – for Blackfellas to see it and have some ownership over the film as well. While we are telling our stories, Kindred is about all of us, and I really hope it screens over and over for audiences for years to come.

G: There is something in Kindred for all of us – for anyone seeking connections to home, to family. I hope audiences can reflect and see that, by opening yourself up, having conversations or sitting in the silence together, we can find family, home and friendship with those our hearts connect to in life.

Kindred will premiere on NITV and SBS on Demand at 8.30pm on Sunday 2 June.