Kindred documentary: Filmmakers Gillian and Adrian share their story of reconnecting with Country and culture after growing up as adoptees in white families

Kindred documentary: Filmmakers Gillian and Adrian share their story of reconnecting with Country and culture after growing up as adoptees in white families
  • PublishedJune 4, 2024

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains images of people who have died.

“If there’s anything I’ve learnt in making this film, it’s that I think the best thing anyone can do in their life is tell their story. Good, bad or indifferent,” says Adrian Russell Wills.

Wills and his co-director and co-writer, Gillian Moody, have two powerful stories, but share one unique experience.

Moody, a Wodi Wodi woman, and Wills, a Wonnarua man, both grew up in white families.

Two school-photo style headshot of a girl and a boy in uniform.
 Gillian and Adrian both grew up in white families.(Supplied: NITV)

As adopted Aboriginal children raised in affluent areas of Sydney’s northern beaches in the late 1970s, they were both disconnected from Country and culture throughout their childhood.

Now best friends, it seems they were destined to find each other.

“I used to go and swim down at the little beach there and we used to go to the same corner shop,” says Moody.

“There were so many moments and times that we could’ve bumped into each other in our teenage years, and it just never happened.

“I believe in those sort of things — fate and those moments of serendipity. When we met, that was when we were meant to meet.”

Head and shoulders image of a woman giving a TV documentary interview.
Filmmaker Gillian Moody shares her deeply personal story in Kindred.(Supplied: NITV)

Their paths crossed by chance when Moody joined Wills’ production of his short film, 25 years ago.

Now, in their latest project, the filmmakers step in front of the camera to share their stories of finding and reconnecting with their bloodline families.

A deeper understanding of Australia

Kindred, a feature-length documentary, has already been met with critical acclaim.

It won the First Nations Film Creative Award at the Melbourne International Film Festival, was a finalist for the Documentary Australia Award at Sydney Film Festival, nominee for Best Sound in a Documentary at the AACTA Awards and official selection at the Brisbane Film Festival.

While underscored by the unique experience that links them inextricably, it is also peppered with universal themes of love, loss, family, trauma and identity.

As we traverse the lives of the two friends, we come away with a deeper understanding of Australia as a country — past and present.

Wills says that although people may be familiar with the Stolen Generations, Kindred focuses on the specific experience of growing up disconnected from kin and culture. There are countless, almost identical untold stories.

“This was a different aspect in terms of reconnecting to family and Country and that sense of what home is and family for our mob,” he says.

“I’m really excited for our mob to see it.”

Head and shoulders image of an Indigenous man in a black t-shirt giving a tv documentary interview.
Filmmaker Adrian Russell Willis says he hopes the documentary will help start conversations for other adoptees around reconnecting with family and culture(Supplied: NITV)

The film is woven together with intimate archival footage, dramatic recreations and candid sit-down interviews with the subjects themselves and their families.

In recreations we witness memories of Wills’s early life and the moment he left his family home on Sydney’s North shore with just $40 to his name. But, he says, it was here he found freedom, and a new home in Sydney’s LGBTQ+ community.

We’re present when Moody first meets her birth mother. She says reliving and reflecting on their lives alongside their families was the hardest part of being the subjects of a film, rather than just the creators.

A blurred older photo of a young man and woman ijn black shirts smiling, the man with his arm around the shoulder of the woman.
Gillian at 20 years old on the day of meeting her Mum Geraldine. (Supplied: NITV)

“We were asking our families to put their heart and soul out there as well,” she says.

“But, in actual fact, I feel like all of our family members that are in the film were really supportive.

“They believed that this was a really important story to be told, they really felt like our mob need to hear these stories and that broader Australia need to hear these stories as well.”

Wills sees his biological family’s involvement in the film as “an incredible act of love and generosity” and laughs as he admits that no one really wanted to be on camera.

“They were doing it for us because they knew it was important to us,” he says.

“It was their way of showing the tremendous love that we’ve managed to build and re-build for the years that we weren’t with them, in our natural families.”

Aerial shot of a car driving down a red dirt road in the bush.
Driving through Barkindji Country: Reconnecting with family, community and Country and sharing their story proved a cathartic experience for the filmmakers.(Supplied: NITV)

On a path of healing

The documentary pulls the curtain back on what it’s like to walk in two worlds — and hold complex and conflicting feelings simultaneously.

Moody says she still walks with one foot in each world.

“Over time I felt like those worlds were further apart and, in some ways, I chose to set that up that way for a lot of my life,” says Moody.

“I thought it would be easier for all of us, but I think what came out of making this film was I became really aware that, possibly, I didn’t need to do that, and that actually both my two worlds can exist together, much more closely.”

Moody’s connection with both her birth and adoptive mother on screen is palpable and was, in many ways, the catalyst for making the film now.

“It was a really important to have my mothers be a part of this story,” she says.

“I was aware they were both unwell and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity; I wanted them to be as active as they wanted to be within it.”

An elderly woman with a walker and a younger woman sit together on a rock overlooking the sea, laughing together.
Gillian reconnecting with her birth Mum Geraldine at Wreck Bay.(Supplied: NITV)

Wills found the process of telling his life story cathartic.

“Making the film was really healing and it was kind of therapeutic in some ways and I think I found a lot of closure,” he says.

Wills says he hopes his adoptive family see the film.

Although he has struggled with belonging for a lot of his life, he says the process of telling his life story has brought with it the realisation of how much he has gained over the last decades.

“I was tremendously moved and kind of overwhelmed when I realised how I went from feeling like I was on my own in the world to feeling like I was part of a really big Black and white family,” he says.

Moody says her ultimate hope with the film is for those who have experienced anything similar to feel safe in beginning the journey of finding their own bloodline families.

“I think there’s sometimes a lot of fear around connecting back with family and mob,” says Moody.

“I think there was a part of us that was hoping that it would open those doors for people to be able to step out there and find family, if that was something they were juggling in their mind.”

Wills says he wants this film to be the start of more explorations on these vital topics.

“I hope it’s just one story in us continuing to tell our stories about family, about reconnecting to home and connection to Country.”


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