The Graffiti of Mr Tupaia
When a Cook Island school cleaner answers an unusual message on the wall of a girls’ toilet cubicle, his life, and the life of the mysterious author, will never be the same again.
The Graffiti of Mr Tupaia is based on the Australian short story The Graffiti of Mr Kynyatta by Michael Griffith, adapted for screen by Paul Stanley Ward. We responded to the story of a character, Mr Tupaia, dignified but silent and isolated in his environment, who finds a unique way to communicate and connect. The film depicts an original scenario in which two unlikely people (a lonelyimmigrant school cleaner and an abused young girl) establish a connection, overcoming barriers of gender, class, race, age and language.
From the outset we saw this story as a distinctly cinematic one. The language that Mr Tupaia finds to communicate to Lena in, first through graffiti, then by emptying the swimming pool, is visual; a way of ‘talking’ without speech. Though there are key passages of dialogue, the story could almost be a silent film. The film’s depiction of an older man’s intimate connection with a young girl also has a particular contemporary tension. Societal paranoia about sexual abuse perpetrated by men on young children means the default instinct is to view a situation like the one Mr Tupaia finds himself in with Lena, with suspicion and mistrust. In New Zealand few male teachers teach in kindergartens, kids no longer walk to school alone. The Graffiti of Mr Tupaia subverts the expectation that the intentions of Mr Tupaia are culpable and instead offers the possibility of human nature as compassionate. What this story conveys is the human hope that the significance of our lives is determined by our efforts to connect; by having the courage to sympathise with another human being and act.