29 September 2023

Kindred Indigenous spirits share the most remarkable of lives, on film

| Sally Hopman
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Man and woman together

The new film by Adrian Russell Wills and Gillian Moody, Kindred, will premiere at the NFSA on 6 November. Photo: Gillian Moody.

Gillian Moody and Adrian Russell Wills share the strongest of bonds – and it began before they even knew. As babies, they were adopted out from their First Nations’ homes into white families.

For this Wodi Wodi woman and Wonnarua man, their early travels took them on the most similar of paths. They knew the same people, lived not too far away from each other – and shared the most remarkable history.

But these two most creative souls never met, until a chance encounter in a Sydney cafe about 25 years ago. That resulted in their first film Angel (2000) followed by Daniel’s 21st (2010) and the documentary Black Divaz (2018). Today they remain the best of friends and have just finished making Kindred, a film that cements their special bond.

Kindred is the story, Mr Wills said, of the emotional rollercoaster of being born a First Nations person, being adopted into a white family and then connecting back with your bloodlines.

“It’s a story of connection,” he said. “It’s also about reflection, looking back on experiences. It’s about telling my story the way I have always wanted to.

“I remember as a child I was always on the outer. I didn’t know why … I never understood why it was always my fault.”

An in-demand TV and film writer and director, Mr Wills – who no longer has a connection with his adopted family – said the film brought back a lot of raw emotion for him, feelings he hadn’t realised still enveloped him.

“That’s why making this film has been so important,” he said. “Especially working with Gill. I couldn’t imagine doing this with anyone else.

“We’ve discovered we have so many shared experiences, we had mutual friends as teenagers and we didn’t live that far away from each other, although we didn’t know it then – it really was a surprise we hadn’t met before we actually did.”

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Ms Moody, who is in her second year in charge of the Indigenous collection at the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) in Canberra, said one of her goals in making the film was “to protect everyone and keep them safe”.

“We both had family members who were vulnerable, I wanted to have all my family included but both my mothers were vulnerable, both had illness and I realised I could lose both of them while making the film,” she said.

“It was a big thing for everyone to be involved. It’s a lot to deal with just one family in your life, but to be strongly connected to two, who have such differences … it’s hard.

“But I was lucky. My adopted family were very socially conscious people so I’ve been raised in a way not to discriminate, rather to be loving and compassionate and kind.”

The film-makers said all the families could be as involved in the film as they wanted to be. They were shown it at a rough cut stage and again at a fine cut.

“What we wanted was for them to give us their blessing and to feel that we had properly told our story, not just my story or Adrian’s, but our story.”

Man and woman walking in the bush at dusk

Adrian Russell Wills and Gillian Moody wander across Barkindji Country during the filming of Kindred. Photo: Supplied.

The film, its makers said, was testament to their friendship – “it’s a fusion of two people’s lives, there are a lot of similarities but a lot of differences as well – she can even finish my sentences,” Mr Wills laughed.

Kindred, which took four years to make, explores the importance of discovering your place in the world and realising that home and love can be found in the people and places your heart connects to. It documents the film-makers’ emotional searches for belonging and how their abiding friendship has offered solace in turbulent times.

The NFSA will host the Canberra premiere of Kindred on Friday 6 October followed by a Q&A with the film-makers moderated by Professor Brenda Croft from the Australian National University’s College of Arts and Social Sciences.

More information and bookings are available on the NFSA website.

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