Men in the Matapuna Special Treatment Unit (STU) had a lot to reflect on when watching the journey of Fa’amoana John Luafutu through state care and prison in a special screening of the *award-winning Conch documentary, A Boy Called Piano, directed by Nina Nawalowalo.
The documentary is set in 1963 when three 11-year old boys meet in a cell in the Family Court. They are named Wheels, Piwi, and a boy called Piano. Made wards of state, they are taken to Ōwairaka Boys’ Home.
Fa’amoana, his son, Mathias, and members of the film and theatre production company, The Conch, visited Christchurch Men’s Prison (CMP) to share the documentary and talk to men in the STU about their own journeys.
“I wanted to come here and share my life,” said Fa’amoana. “I know what it’s like here, waiting for your family to visit, hoping my boys wouldn’t follow in my footsteps. I spent years attacking the systems – and it got me nowhere. The pen has been where I found my power.”
Many of the men in the unit and staff gathered to watch the documentary, before circling for a discussion about the film, Fa’amoana’s story, and how he and his son, Mathias, made new lives for themselves outside the wire.
The response from the men was poignant, as they shared their own stories and realisations gained through the screening and their time in the unit.
“I represent all of us,” Fa’amoana told men at the screening. “If I can do it, you can do it.”
Fa’amoana was released from Christchurch Men’s Prison in 1983, crediting his work in the arts, and an alcohol and drug rehabilitation programme for helping him build a new life. Mathias, who stars in A Boy Called Piano, also opened up about his experience in prison, and how an arts programme at CMP inspired him to make change.
“I used to be over in the East Block,” Mathias told the group. “I started in a programme, and something good came out of it - the drive to not come back to this place. We’re all a lot better creating than we are destroying.”
Matapuna’s Manager of Psychological Services Ruchika Davies, says it was an incredibly moving and meaningful experience for everyone in the therapeutic community.
“The Q&A session after the screening brought about an open kōrero about the mens’ experiences and the validation they felt in watching this documentary,” she says. “The men gained great inspiration and hope from seeing Fa’amoana and his aiga (family)’s progress and success.”
The Matapuna STU brings together men with a high risk of re-offending for a high intensity psychology programme in a therapeutic, residential environment. Men are typically in the unit for around the year, with these programmes known to generate strong results around reducing re-offending.
“I’ve been in a rut, wondering if jail would be the rest of my life, but your story has struck a chord,” said one of the men. “Hearing your words has given me the strength to realise I can change.”
Another stood to respond to Fa’amoana in Samoan, thanking him for his inspiring story. It was particularly moving for the group to see men returning to prison for a positive reason, with another attendee saying, “You’re showing me that even if you’re on the wrong path for so many years, you can get on the right path.”
The impact of the screening was indeed felt the next day, as the group held their community meeting and discussed the documentary further.
“The kōrero included hopes for change, sparks of aspiration, acknowledgement of the importance of whānau connection, and gratitude for the Boy Called Piano team’s mahi and presence,” says Ruchika.
On the back of their national theatrical tour, the Boy Called Piano team have hopes to show the documentary at other prisons, with Creative Producer & Co-Founder of The Conch Tom McCrory, saying to the group, “Nina Nawalowalo and the team made this film for you. You are our target audience. The fact that this screening has given you some hope or potential is beyond words.”
* The film won an award at a festival in Montreal, before playing as part of the 2022 New Zealand International Film Festival.