‘Boni & Wes’ is a true story told by Boni Mnisi and Wesley Leal about life, love, long distance, identity and the pieces in between.
The eight minute film is fuelled with feelings as it travels through Boni and Wes’ experience as an openly queer couple at an all-girls school, Wes’ struggle in coming to terms with trans identity, the loneliness of a long-distance relationship and most importantly, a love that is evolving, brave and kind. Boni & Wes is about two people who choose each other no matter what.
The short film, directed by Helen & Kim and produced by Reinette Du Toit and Motion City Films, was filmed in Cape Town and surrounds by a small team. Helen & Kim worked with Mnisi and Leal to create a narrative documenting the couple’s journey by drawing on their individual perspectives.
The film’s aesthetic aimed to stay true to Boni and Wes’ existing art styles, drawing reference from their collage, photography, zines and various other mediums.
Your short film is so special. Can you tell us a bit more about how this project came to life and the people involved?
Boni & Wes: The project came to be when we were approached via Instagram by Helen, one half of director-duo Helen Raine and Kim Hinrichs of Motion City Films. Helen reached out about 4 months into Wes’ transition asking to collaborate with us on a short film about our life together.
She explained that she’d been following our story via social media for some time and that it really touched her how we were able to overcome so much adversity and still remain hopeful at such a young age. She proposed that we meet up and start talking through adapting our story and writing a script together. This film was made with the most heart ever!
Helen and Kim brought this entire thing to life while also running their own production company and working on various other projects. A lot of the film’s development took place in after-hour meetups involving countless sticky notes and rummaging through our own personal archives and memories.
Slowly but surely it all came together and Helen and Kim were able to onboard so many talented people to form our dream team to shoot over 4 days in early December.
You shot this film in 4 days, that’s insane given all the location and wardrobe changes. How on earth did you get this done in such a short space of time?
Boni & Wes: None of this would have been possible without the hard work and dedication of our Producer Reinette Du Toit who ensured that everything was smooth-sailing from start to finish. The entire team was incredible! Nico Nigrini styled the film, while Jade Ashton Scully was on art direction and they both just immediately knew what worked and so those details were lovely to iron out.
However, when it came to being on set and doing wardrobe changes and set dressing changes we have no idea how the art and styling department did it all so quickly and how quickly the gaffers could set up between locations! Everyone on that set was so good at their job and professional beyond belief and we truly feel working on that set has made us strive to be a lot more professional. The work put into this project was entirely a labour of love on all parts, it took months of planning from our unbelievable dream team who was able to lock down the most incredible locations and a crew of incredibly talented people.
The two of you have the ability to share not just about your relationship but about your personal experiences via platforms like Instagram. How do you think social media plays a role in people achieving a true sense of self and self-authenticity?
Boni & Wes: The beautiful thing about the internet is there’s about as much space to be whoever you want to be. For us, the best thing about platforms like Instagram is the way we’re able to express ourselves and create and shape the narrative around who we want to be.
It’s a truly liberating experience, bar the censorship we really often subject to.
For Wes, in a world where people immediately read his appearance as ‘different’, it’s a relief to be able to show the world exactly how you want to be seen. There’s something powerful about putting your pronouns in your bio and changing your screen name to your preferred name. So many queer people only get to experience this freedom on the internet and so the power of social media should never be underestimated in our opinion.
There’s something powerful about putting your pronouns in your bio and changing your screen name to your preferred name.
There is so much admiration out there for your bravery when it comes to discussing issues that are normally pushed toward the periphery. It must have been difficult to start those conversations. Have there been any moments, thoughts or DM’s that have stood out to you?
Boni & Wes: For us, it’s always been very important to talk about things that we feel are sometimes overlooked because they appear to be too multifaceted to comprehend or decipher. For Wes, it was always important to document his gender journey from the start because he knew that it differed from the content he’d been consuming via YouTube and Tumblr. Whenever he looks back on that time of trying to find out more about himself and steps he could take, the information was only relevant to places outside of the country, mostly in the US or UK. He also found that a lot of the transmasculine representation was not entirely in line with his own identity.
Most of the YouTubers he watched were trans masculine folk who identified as ‘men’ and strived to have big muscles and facial hair. Although there is nothing wrong with identifying as a man or striving for an overtly masculine appearance, Wes didn’t feel that he fit this mould.
What now even?! (Who knows, someone reading this could collaborate and make it happen!)
Boni & Wes: This year has been a whirlwind so far (I mean look at Corona) and we’ve been given so many amazing opportunities to do some dream come true work! We can’t talk about it in detail but we are part of a very exciting upcoming show at a really great gallery that stands for everything we believe in so that’s a treat!
Other than that we’re constantly creating in our home, on our couch and so now the sudden implication of social distancing makes us want to try to focus on a more online approach to our practice to keep hope and creativity alive during these heavy times.
Notes from the Directors Helen & Kim on creating the film:
Helen J. Raine:
‘The film was a true collaboration! We worked with Boni and Wesley over the course of a year to ensure that they were involved in every aspect of the film – from the writing, all the way to the wardrobe. We created each vignette to represent a chapter of their story by drawing on their personal videos, photography, collage, zines, art, images that they found resonated – we literally worked through piles of reference to find the right feeling for each scene. We also ended up using some Boni and Wes’ personal footage in the final cut.
The majority of the wardrobe was their own, and they worked with stylist Nico Nigrini to create looks which we tested in each of the locations. Art director, Jade Ashton Scully, dressed the interior sets with Boni & Wes’ personal belongings. It was super important for everything to feel like ‘theirs’.
We wanted to tell this story because we were moved by the bravery and generousity Boni and Wes showed in documenting their journey and sharing it online and we really wanted to pay tribute to that. We are extremely grateful to them for trusting us with their story.
The film was shot by DOP Zenn van Zyl who shot on both digital and on 8mm formats. The aim was to create a look that was at once immersive and gentle, with a style that captured the specific mood of each scene.
The film was due to premiere at a cinema screening 18 March but amid concerns around COVID19, the premiere was moved online with the film available to stream for one hour on Instagram and Facebook. The filmed streamed over 3000 times and was followed by a livestream Q&A.
Team Credits :
Boni Mnisi: @sensitive_black_dyke
Wesley Leal: @mr_leal__
Executive Producer: @groblerlisa_
Art Director: @foxxyles
Original Soundtrack by: @joshshhhh
Music by: @nakhaneofficial and @honeymoanband
Post by: @strangelove_post