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30 May 2019

Lifting The Veil

Film-makers Nikki Si’ulepa and Rachel Aneta Wills, talk about the challenges and victories around launching their debut feature film, ‘Same But Different’.


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A first of its kind in New Zealand, Same But Different tells a true story of love and courage. A social and society influencer, this feature film is about a woman called Rachel who takes a risk on love. She could go down the same old path, but when love ‘slaps her in the face’, she has no choice but to follow her heart and take on the unknown.

Eighteen months ago, Nikki Si’ulepa and Rachel Aneta Wills, with their children Cooper 14 and Jett 8 moved from their peaceful lifestyle in the bush-clad hills of Waitākere to make a self-funded feature film.

Nikki recalls, “I said to Rachel, let’s makes a film about how you tried to get my attention for all those weeks. When Rachel reacted with ‘oh, no that’s a terrible idea’, I knew we were on to a winner.

We sat the kids down and said we want to make a feature film and, as a family, we would have to make some sacrifices - living out of suitcases, we moved nine times during the making of the film with the last move being to Ponsonby.”

Nikki and Rachel had independently produced short films, but together they were ready to cut their teeth on a feature film. Despite their love for arthouse film festival drama this was to be a romance film that would go straight to the box office.

They knew their story was different - a true New Zealand story about finding love and, in the wake of this, a beautiful story about how relationships with their family and friends would unfold. It was to be a life-changing experience that would dig deep into their emotions and, challenge their trust in their truth.

“Same But Different is about love – it’s about our love - which is a vulnerable space to be,” says Nikki. “You let the whole world into your life. We hope the audiences can let go of the vessel in which love is presented to them.”

“For us love is love, whatever vessel it comes in.”

“We want this film to normalise any relationship that doesn’t come in a traditional package; after all it’s just love,” says Rachel. “This will conflict with the belief systems of many, but the world is evolving and becoming more fluid and the veils definitely are lifting.

“Our kids were amazing. They rolled with it every step of the way. Cooper was an extra on some of the scenes and Jett successfully auditioned for the part as Indie where she plays a character based on her. Both kids became part of the film and set family. They took a leap into the abyss, and for this we acknowledge and thank them greatly.”

“We make films intuitively and rely on a gut feeling. We DIY it and try to do it with kindness.”

Rachel adds, “Film making can take you to heights you’ve never been before then drop you like a tonne of bricks. Although we had the best film crew and cast, the shoot had its share of challenges. Our crew and budget were small so it required us to do things most producers, writers and directors wouldn’t have to do. On the very first day, just being on set with a crew there, a script written and a schedule to go into shooting, for us, was winning.

“To make it, you’ve got to do the mahi (work) - we were up at 4am some mornings making meals to keep the crew and cast fed. We had to consistently be thinking ahead of ourselves. Making a film is hard work and that’s why not everyone does it and not all films make it, so at post production, we exclaimed, ‘yeah we’ve done it’.

What drives these wahine toa (strong women) is whakapapa (lineage). Knowing where they come from, and their love for whanau and for each other is, undoubtedly, at the core of their being.

Nikki was brought up by her Samoan grandparents and parents who immigrated to Aotearoa and settled in Ponsonby. “Our roots are here, Sussex Street, Collingwood Street, Richmond Road – it’s where it all started for our family,” she says. “My grandparents were very strict. I wasn’t allowed to go out much, so I would watch T.V. and then go to my room to re-enact the scenes I had just watched.

“At 19, I auditioned for the lead role in Ian Mune’s feature film, ‘The Whole of the Moon’. I got the part and won two awards for best actress at the NZ Film Festival Awards and the Giffoni Film Awards in Italy. I joined TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika programme as presenter, reporter and director. Ultimately, I wanted to be behind the camera, so I learnt how to operate a camera and moved into production.”

Nikki’s first short film ‘Snow in Paradise’ set in the 1970s was a story told through the eyes of a young Pacific Island girl, about how nuclear testing impacted their lives. It was a multi-film festival success. Next came a self-funded short film titled ‘Ma’ which was about her grandmother. An initiative called, K’Road Stories commissioned Nikki’s next short film ‘Aroha’ which was one of 10 films made about and around K’Road from a collective of 10 film-makers.

Rachel was drawn to acting at a very early age. Mt Roskill was home, but her strong affiliation with the Far North, Kaitaia and Awanui where her grandmother and mother were from, would be the inspiration and location for her first short film, ‘Netta Jones’. The story was about her grandmother who was of Welsh, Māori and Croatian mix known as Tararā. ‘Netta Jones’ got picked up for the New Zealand Film Festival and the Wairoa Māori Film Festival.

With the release of Same But Different, Rachel will commence research and development for a period drama based on a true event from the 1980s. She will re-focus on her Facebook page ‘Mum’s Mince’ which is an initiative she created for mums who are available to make nutritious home-cooked meals for the City Mission’s homeless people.

Rachel and Nikki agree they will enjoy ‘being married’. They’ll perhaps take in a music or film festival, savour an organic wine or good Champagne and make more time for family. They’re keen to return to their family touch team ‘Awanui Hard’. They play one evening a week at Cox’s Bay Reserve.

Click here to view the trailer

Click here to visit the Same But Different Facebook page

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