Resolve's Pana Hema-Taylor on Chris Crean's story of 'bravery and love'
Actor Pana Hema-Taylor has nothing but admiration for Chris Crean, the Taranaki man gunned down in front of his family by Black Power members more than 20 years ago.
"It takes a lot more than just bravery to go up against a gang," he says of the man he plays in Resolve: The Chris Crean Story.
The drama recounts how Crean's decision to stand up to gang activity in New Plymouth led to his murder – and a ground-breaking change in how witness protection was managed in New Zealand.
Hema-Taylor, best known for The Brokenwood Mysteries, Westside and Dirty Laundry, knows about gangs. He grew up in Wairoa, a Mongrel Mob stronghold. He has no difficulty understanding Crean's drive to protect both his family and his community from gang violence.
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"I'm pretty sure most fathers can. I'm a father of two beautiful kids whom I would give my life for," he says, adding before filming he spent a lot of time researching the murder and talking to Crean's family.
"Tania, Chris' wife and the mother of his kids who was present during all of the violence including his death, wanted people to know his story as it is a story of bravery and the love he had for his community and kids," Hema-Taylor says.
"It is a story that should be told to hopefully inspire others to stand up to the gangs and wrongdoings in their community. That's what Chris wanted. He was sick of people feeling scared and wanted to take action and he had the mana and bravery to do so."
Chris Crean was just 27 when he was murdered by Black Power members in 1996. It was an organised hit arranged to prevent him from giving evidence against the gang in court. Four gang members were sentenced to life in prison for the crime and two have since been paroled.
The decision to make the docu-drama has split Crean's family. His widow Tania said she felt it was a story that should be told while his mother Liz and brother Robert felt it was a waste of money and would stir up old hurts. Friends of the Crean family set up a petition calling on production company Screentime to stop the documentary.
Producer Philly de Lacey is no stranger to publicity. Her previous credits include Bombshell, Pike River, Siege and The Monster Of Mangatiti.
"Whenever you are dealing with a story that's to do with real people and personal tragedies, they're always complex for a variety of reasons," de Lacey says. "We've done a lot of stories that have dealt with people that have done some terrible things and I think that these stories do need to be told and someone has to tell them.
"They all pose different sorts of challenges but, I guess at the end of the day, if you feel like there's a story that's important and worth telling then it's worth dealing with those challenges and fighting for."
De Lacey says when Resolve was first mooted, the wider Crean family were open to it.
"Then, when the project was financed (NZ On Air gave more than $2.5 million) they became unhappy, but we had also been dealing with Chris' wife Tania (played by Ella Becroft) and the story is very much her story as well.
"He was the witness and he made that decision to stand up against the Black Power which was incredibly brave, particularly at the time, but it was her journey too and also the journey of the police officers who were investigating the case."
Crean's murder led directly to changes in the Evidence Act which means witnesses have since been able to testify anonymously and give video testimony.
"It does feel like a lot of New Zealanders don't really understand exactly what Chris did and how important and how significant what he did was," de Lacey says.
"Because of him, witnesses have been able to testify free from intimidation. It was incredibly significant what he did.
"I certainly hope that Tania and Chris' whanau feel that we've done justice to his story. I'm hoping the police feel that we've done justice to their part of the story. I hope the gangs understand it for what it is.
"It's based in truth so it is what it is really. It is a part of our history."
Resolve: The Chris Crean Story, TVNZ 1, Sunday July 23.
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- TV Guide