A journey of adoption and discovery

Adrian Wills’ newest film explores identity and connection

Filmmaker Adrian Wills and his sister as children. Courtesy Adrian Wills

When presented with an adoption document describing his birth mother as "a quiet girl," filmmaker Adrian Wills’ curiosity piqued.

The description of “A quiet girl” propelled Wills into a two-year journey, during which he sought to uncover the truth of his mother’s past. Through the medium of film, he gathered descriptions that crafted a richer and more precise portrayal of her, far surpassing the simplistic three words that had originally sparked his quest.

“Being able to look at your biological parent or somebody from your family and being able to see all of the similarities and this lineage that exists, it's almost like these kinds of invisible spider webs that are connecting us and people who are adopted don't have that and they're aware of it,” Wills said.

Utilizing the evocative power of a 16-millimeter lens, Adrian Wills' journey to Newfoundland became a profound exploration of adoption. His latest film A Quiet Girl explores the emotions tied to not knowing one's origins, grappling with questions of belonging and confronting feelings of abandonment.

“I knew I wanted it to be as transparent as possible,” said Wills. “To make people understand what it's like to not know your history at all.”

On March 1, Les Rendez-vous Québec Cinéma premiered the English film in Montreal.

“It takes you on a whirlwind and you follow his emotions as he goes throughout it,” said Chloe Berland, an attendee of the film’s screening. “We were crying at the end of it for sure.”

Born in 1973 and raised in Montreal, Wills pursued his passion for film by obtaining a bachelor's degree from Concordia University in film production. His fascination with the subject began in his youth.

He explained that one of his main inspirations was Walter Ungerer, a friend of his father's, who showed his projects to Wills when he was young.

At about ten years old, Wills secured his first job with the National Film Board as a voice dubber for claymation projects.

“Seeing Walter, it kind of demystified what filmmaking was, because I could see that he was making it, so if somebody I knew was making it, it wasn't complete magic,” Wills said.

As mentioned in the film, Ungerer gave Wills his very first point-and-shoot camera.

Wills described his new film as being quite challenging to shoot, as in this project, he found himself at the center of the storyline, feeling exposed and vulnerable. 

Wills was additionally discovering information as he filmed, unsure of the result of the final product. He likened the experience to "trying to make something when you're blind."

Wills is currently completing his master's degree at Concordia, focusing on the production process of this film.

He explained the challenge of placing oneself in front of a camera in such a vulnerable state and highlighted the impact of reliving those experiences through the editing process.

In the film, through chance encounters and heartfelt conversations, Wills discovered a profound connection with a family previously unknown to him. 

Despite five decades of separation, his birth mother’s relatives warmly embraced him. One of his encounters included travelling to Texas to meet one of his mother’s sisters.

Highlighting his gratitude towards their receptiveness, Wills remarked, “I think it’s a testament to a certain level of trust and generosity that they extended to essentially a complete stranger, because that's what I was—a complete stranger who showed up at their door.” 

Berland expressed that to her, it almost seemed as if the family members were searching for him as fervently as he was searching for them.

When asked about the most memorable aspect of the film, attendee Antoine Foley-Dupont noted, "The path that Adrian had to go along and all the obstacles, I found it incredibly honourable."

As Wills navigates the trials of his journey through the film, the story becomes a stirring reflection of the audience's shared voyage through life. His quest reminds us of humanity's richness. 

“Like anything in life, it's not a black-and-white situation. It's all about the nuances and the greys. This is not just one linear story. It's got all these tributaries of these other emotional colours,” Wills said.

The film will be streaming for free on NFB.ca as of March 25.


With files from Maria Cholakova.

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 11, published March 5, 2024.