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. They also hope to begin production soon on feature film Ginderella, a musical set in ‘80s Western Australia that follows an Indigenous transgender woman.
Adrian Russell Wills
Gill and I met over 21 years ago now at Metro Screen, as part of the Uncle Lester Bostock short film initiative.
I was introduced to her by Kristina Nehm, who was producing my first short. She knew straight away that I had to meet this girl that she worked with at SBS called Gill – something told her that we had to meet. In the end, Kristina stepped away so that Gill could produce that short for me.
We just clicked straight away. We both came from a world that we understood on a visceral level, with our shared experience of adoption.
When I first met Gill, my life had been coming out of a period of turmoil and she was the calm in the storm; she was this stable and calming presence that grounded me and pinned me back to Earth. We shared so much and had such a common knowledge of the experiences that we’d both been through. Having been adopted and being Aboriginal, growing up in the North Shore – in one of the whitest parts of Australia – is quite polarising.
We’re making a feature film documentary about it at the moment, Kindred. It’s a story about us: our shared experiences of adoption and how it bonded and brought us together. It’s created an incredibly beautiful friendship.
I loved Anne of Green Gables growing up, particularly being an adopted kid – Anne Shirley being an orphan taken in by Marilla and Matthew and then finding Diana Barry. Gill’s my Diana Barry. She’s my kindred spirit. That’s where the title comes from.
We’ve always known that at some point we’ll tell our story; it’s fantastic that we’re telling it together. The common thread to [Kindred] is our friendship. But it’s an incredibly raw and emotional journey. Had we taken it as solo artists, telling our own stories individually, it would have been too overwhelming. Together it gives us safe harbour in sharing that vulnerability and exposing the deepest parts of ourselves. Being adopted has defined our lives in many different ways.
We both had a huge interest and a real passion for filmmaking, but I don’t think we knew what that was [when we first met] – we just realised that we had a real passion to tell stories. Particularly for me, I want to tell stories about people who don’t usually get asked their story.
As a kid of colour growing up where everyone around me looked different to me, I know how important it was to see myself reflected on screen – because I didn’t see myself reflected on screen or in the world that I was living. There are a lot of other Indigenous filmmakers out there that would not have seen themselves reflected on the screen or in cinema, but would have had other people that looked like them around them. Whereas Gill and I, not only did we not see ourselves reflected on screen and in media, in iconic imagery or hear stories told about people like us, we didn’t see ourselves in our family members either.
We both share the same vision in terms of what we think about the world, in politics, fashion, storytelling, films and music. Gill can see in my head like no one else. She can see what I’m seeing. She knows what I’m thinking as I’m thinking it. She knows the problem I’m having before I have it. I’ll start a sentence and say, “Oh this happens”, and then she’ll finish it, and say “It looks like this”. She just knows me.
She’s incredibly nurturing, often to her detriment. She’ll go that extra mile. You can look at us as ying and yang. I know what she brought into my life in terms of positivity, creative ambition, energy and championing… I often wonder if I was the bad influence on her life, or the good influence (laughs).
She sees the best in people, even though she can also see their weaknesses. She always gives people the benefit of the doubt. She’s taught me that over the years.
[I’m so proud of our] 21 years of friendship. When you’re friends with someone for that long and that closely, you see all of it – every aspect of a person. The hopes, the fears, dreams, celebrations, but also the vulnerabilities, fragilities. That’s why we talk about being kindred spirits. We see the best and the worst of each other.
21 years. It’s been quite a long journey. And hopefully there’s 21 years more.
When I met Adrian, it was a really difficult year. We had had a member of our team at SBS commit suicide. It was a tough moment for me. We at the Indigenous unit then decided to make a program that looked at suicide in our community. Adrian was one of the people interviewed. That’s how I first became aware of him, through that little story for ICAM.
One of our mutual friends, Julie, suggested to Adrian to think about doing Uncle Lester’s short film initiative. Uncle Lester spoke about me, but Adrian was already working with another producer, Kristina Nehm, who worked with me at SBS.
Kristina wanted me to help her with the film so she arranged for us to meet. Adrian and I just connected straight away, and I ended up stepping up and producing that project. It was called Angel, and looked at suicide in our community. It was a full circle connection in regards to how I heard about him.
We realised we really enjoyed working with each other, but also quickly found out that we had a lot of commonalities to do with the fact that we were both adopted, and both grew up in the northern suburbs; the North Shore and Northern Beaches of Sydney. We also discovered that we had a mutual friend as teenagers. There were all these moments where we probably should have met, but we never actually did until we were in our 20s.
Straight away we could see we were both very creatively-minded and visual storytellers. Often when he would talk about his ideas, I could see it in my mind.
We both have a passion for those stories of people who often don’t get a voice. They’re generally always Indigenous stories, both thematically and in terms of characters. Growing up in the area that we grew up in, we didn’t get to often see our own faces looking back at us. You didn’t see many Aboriginal people on screen and if you did, they were often negative stories in the news.
We want to tell stories about strength, courage and resilience. That’s what we see in our lives, when we look at ourselves, at family members and people within the broader community as well. We see a lot of struggle and a whole lot of resilience as well.
I often say to Adrian, “We need to have conversations that aren’t just work related sometimes.” Every time we catch up, we’re always talking about projects. Those two worlds between friendship and collaborators often merge for us.
We’ve always felt like there would be a day when we would tell our stories in some way. Whether it be our individual stories about adoption, or whether it would be a combined story of the two of us and our adoptions. But I don’t think either of us truly thought that it would happen now, at this point in our lives. The universe works in wonderous ways and pushes you.
We haven’t really had the opportunities to hear from adopted Aboriginal people. As filmmakers, we thought that we could probably tell that story in a beautiful way that shows complexities of what it’s like to be an adopted person, who is often then growing up in a non-Indigenous family, away from what is seen as your country or your home, your mob.
I admire Adrian’s passion for film and storytelling but also his passion to collaborate and to remain positive. The industry is a hard industry. It can take years for your career to truly set itself up. He has always remained positive and strong, and just continued to walk this path. He’s not allowed for any of the knock backs to take him off track. I’ve seen him really grow as a storyteller and a director. I’m really excited to be producing his debut feature, Ginderella. He has a beautiful eye and imagination for storytelling and an extraordinary ability to capture the heart in a character.
2021 is going to be a big year co-directing Kindred and gearing up for Ginderella. It doesn’t come without its struggles. When friendship and business merge, sometimes these days we can get a little bit snappy with each other. In most friendships, you have little argy-bargies with each other – but in the 20 odd years that we’ve known each other, we’ve very rarely had that. These days, if we snap about stuff, it’s usually because we’re passionate about what we want to create.
When you’re going into bigger projects and you’re extending your skills, it can be nerve-wracking. But we realise at the end of the day that we both have each other’s backs. No matter what, we’ll always look out for each other. It’s why we’re calling the documentary Kindred, because that’s how we feel – that we are kindred spirits, that are meant to be in this life in some way together.
This story originally appeared in IF Magazine #198. Subscribe to the magazine here.