A Boy Called Piano - The Story of Fa'amoana John Luafutu

Arriving to New Zealand from Samoa as a young child in the 1950s, Fa'amoana was taken from his family and placed in state care, suffering terrible abuse alongside thousands of other Pacific and Maori children. This documentary explores his journey through state care, prison, gang membership, as well as the intergenerational impacts of these experiences; and ultimately, healing for Fa'amoana and his Family through harnessing the power of his voice as a storyteller.

It is a Pacific story told through a Pacific lens - with the guidance of director Nina Nawalowalo’s graceful vision - as well as a sublime score by NZ music legend Mark Vanilau - using powerful symbols and imagery to connect directly with survivors: the return to water - ‘from the river to the sea’ - the feeling of wind caressing skin… the elements of nature that are denied to all those who are detained and incarcerated.

The Conch has been honoured to walk alongside Fa’amoana and the Luafutu Aiga as they have courageously shared their stories for the last 7 years - beginning with the collaboration for the stage play THE WHITE GUITAR (2016), and the subsequent collaboration for the stage play A BOY CALLED PIANO (2019), and lastly this documentary film. The film has been made for the kaupapa of connecting directly with survivors - empowering them to share their own stories; as well as being a beautiful moving film - that will serve to positively illuminate the survivor experience in wider society, in Aotearoa and abroad.

Through sharing this story, Fa'amoana has become a 'voice for the voiceless': for all the thousands of children who never made it this far.

  • Nina Nawalowalo
    Director
  • Fa'amoana John Luafutu
    Writer
  • Tom McCrory
    Writer
  • Katherine Wyeth
    Producer
    Goblin Market; Maverick
  • Fa'amoana John Luafutu
    Key Cast
  • Matthias Luafutu
    Key Cast
    Ghost in the Shell, Coming Home in the Dark
  • Mark Vanilau
    Composer
  • Project Type:
    Documentary
  • Runtime:
    56 minutes 57 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    December 21, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    241,000 NZD
  • Country of Origin:
    New Zealand
  • Country of Filming:
    New Zealand
  • Language:
    English
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital
  • Aspect Ratio:
    16:9
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    No
  • Student Project:
    No
Director Biography - Nina Nawalowalo

ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
CO-FOUNDER OF THE CONCH
NINA NAWALOWALO

In a career spanning more than 30 years, internationally acclaimed theatre director Nina Nawalowalo has created a platform for the telling of Pacific stories across the globe.

Artistic Director and Co-founder of Wellington-based theatre company The Conch, she is a performer, mentor and teacher who has presented at over 40 international festivals, including the London International Mime Festival, British Festival of Visual Theatre, and the Moscow Arts Festival. From her ground breaking ‘Vula’ which toured for 7 years including a 3 week season at The Sydney opera House and a sold out season at London’s Barbican Centre, to Masi, Marama and her unforgettable direction of the work of others such as Hone Kouka’s The Prophet and Edinburgh festival award winning Duck death and the Tulip, Nina is renown for her powerful visual and magical work exploring Pacific themes.

She is passionately committed to bringing our untold stories into the light and for using theatre as a vehicle to affect social change. In 2013 She established the Solomon Islands National Women's Theatre Company ‘Stages of Change’ as a means to address violence against women and girls. The 15 strong company of women performed at the Melanesian Arts Festival in Papua New Guinea and at the EU Parliament in Brussels. Acclaimed work The White Guitar, is the powerful story of The Luafutu Family - Father John and sons Matthias and Malo aka renown hip hop artist scribe. Told by the Luafutu family themselves, the sold-out show was lauded by critics with praise: “If there’s any show that you’re going to see in the next decade, this has to be it” [RNZ National]. It was described by The Press as ‘a seminal moment in New Zealand theatre history’.

A Boy Called Piano by Fa’amoana John Luafutu, the sequel to this ground breaking work tells the untold story of thousands of Maori and Pacific children made wards of state in the 1960’s opened in its development season at BATS Theatre, Wellington in November 2019. The work was set to tour the country when covid struck, so Nina pivoted to audio and digital form – creating an audio-drama of the play for broadcast on Radio NZ, and developing a documentary film – which is now entering the film festival circuit alongside community distribution, and will be broadcast throughout NZ, Australia and the Pacific on Maori Television in 2023.

In 2017, Nina received the Senior Pacific Artist Award in acknowledgement of her significant contribution to Pacific Arts in Aotearoa. In 2018 she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Theatre and Pacific culture. In 2021 she was awarded the New Zealand Arts Laureate Award by The Arts Foundation.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

Ni sa bula vinaka
“Telling an untold story like A Boy Called Piano requires tremendous courage. But Why? Because the truths it tells are hidden. Buried by Shaming. Or suppressed because they reveal truths about a society that is in denial of it’s own story. The abuse of Maori and Pacific children in state care was and is systematic – and those children brutalised by a system have lived lives governed by pain. They have sought lost family in the Gangs, dealt out the violence inflicted on them, sought solace in drug addiction, suffered imprisonment. This is an intergenerational story and the true story is hidden stories to those outside this reality. 61.8 % of New Zealand’s Prison Population Is Maori and Pacific Island. Of these 83% Have been at some point in state care as children. Four out of five Prisoners under 20 have been in state care. We talk about decolonising the justice system reducing the number of Maori and Pacific in prison but what is the root cause of this over representation?
This story has been told by those in positions of power, the symptoms of trauma are portrayed as characteristic of our people. Fa’amoana John Luafutu is both a survivor and a master storyteller. This is the first time the experience of those in state care has come directly to the screen told by a man who lived it.”