Nikki Si’ulepa and Rachel Aneta Wills occupied two different worlds before films they’d made featured at the same film festival in 2015. Surprising even themselves, they eventually fell in love and married, before making a new film together, based on their own story.
I had a film in the Wairoa Māori Film Festival and saw Rachel’s film there and thought it was beautiful. After the screening, I asked her what camera it was shot on and she couldn’t answer. In my head I was thinking, “Aren’t you the producer?”
I realised she worked with a friend of mine, so took a photo of us, put it on Facebook and over the next seven weeks she basically stalked me. To be honest, it took me a while to understand what was happening. I was thinking, “This palagi woman gets her nails done and drives a European car…what does she want with me?”
After a few weeks, I went to Bougainville to shoot a documentary. We were messaging and she said, “I hope I can get my head back, because since I met you, I’ve driven to work the wrong way twice.” We started connecting over words, which is interesting because she thinks she has dyslexia. When we watch movies now, I read her the subtitles, because I don’t want her to miss out.
Rachel is extremely kind, nurturing and the best listener I’ve ever met. While I’m naturally introverted and shy in big groups, she can talk to anyone, even my grandma who speaks to her in Samoan. She handles people really well, while I can get a bit hot-headed, which is not great for directing. I’m so privileged to know her, let alone have her as my life partner.
We love sitting and having a cup of tea together. We each have our own tea-pot and light incense and just let it happen. We come up with some really cool ideas and that time is just for us. Wherever we go in the world, we’ll always be having tea somewhere.
I had been separated from my husband for two years and was going through a big unraveling and putting myself together after the divorce. I decided to make a film about my great-grandmother, and when it got into a film festival down south, I didn’t want to go but my mother convinced me to go together.
When I saw Nikki there for the first time, something out of this world happened. She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and her energy was so different but I was thinking, ‘I’m not gay.’ When she came and spoke to me, I was just trying to put my words together.
I like to think I’m usually quite cool in relationships, but I basically harassed her for a date. When she went to Bougainville, we connected through WhatsApp, and haven’t looked back since.
We made our film, Same But Different, to represent people on screen that we felt hadn’t been shown in a light sense, and wanted to normalise the story of a woman who’s had a life with a man, who is now creating a life with a woman. We get emails from around the world confirming that the film makes people feel good about themselves. You feel normal when you see an aspect of yourself on screen, and it was nice to make something that resonated.
Nikki’s incredibly charismatic, with a huge sense of adventure and people definitely remember when they’ve met her. At home she’s quite reserved but she gives a lot of herself to people. The way she’s embraced my children has been incredible and she puts herself second so the kids will thrive. To me that is the ultimate love. She makes life better.