Jennifer Ward-Lealand makes film directing debut with Disrupt

By Marena Mane

A short film that explores the impact of methamphetamine on three generations of a Māori whānau is creating a buzz on the festival circuit. 

Disrupt, written by former Māori Television journalist Aroha Awarau, and directed by actor Jennifer Te Atamira Ward-Lealand, debuts in Hawai’i this week and Ōtautahi next week, and is already up for best Māori and Pacific film, at the New Zealand international film festival.

 Ward-Lealand says the short film is about methamphetamine addiction in Aotearoa, how families deal with it, whether Māori or Pākehā, and showcases a young man (Joe Dekkers-Reihana) and the love of his grandmother (Kararaina Rangihau) for her mokopuna.

“I think at the heart of it, is 'Ko te aroha o te Kui ki tāna mokopuna' (The love of the granny for her grandchild),” she says.

The first-time director for the big screen claims she originally thought Aroha Awarau, who wrote Disrupt, asking her to direct the film, was sending her an email by accident but accepted because of the reo Māori content, which she says is close to her heart.

“I just loved it. Twenty years in the theatre directing people so the directing parts are not so unusual. I think the post-production and all of that kind of stuff was new for me.”

Ward-Lealand believes it is crucial for Te Reo Māori to be normalised, which is why the filmmakers chose not to include subtitles.

“It's not all in Te Reo but, especially between the granny and her grandchild, definitely ... very important.”

Ward-Lealand says she hopes others will realise how much it costs a family when one of their own is addicted.

“Hopefully, they get some hope out of this. There is an insight that is not just 'P’s a problem' but 'look how it is for this particular whānau'.”

Ward-Leadland says she is thrilled the film will play throughout Aotearoa in, “Heretaunga, Tauranga Moana, Te Papaioea, Ngā Motu, Pōneke, Ōtautahi, me Ōtepōti.”

“It's part of the New Zealand International Film Festival and we are really, really thrilled that it has taken off like this.”