Jennifer Ward-Lealand tackles P epidemic in film directing debut

By Te Ao - Māori News

A short film about the devastation of methamphetamine addiction in Aotearoa and helmed by last year's New Zealander of the Year, Jennifer Te Atamira Ward-Lealand, in her screen directing debut, will start filming this week in Auckland.

It comes after the bilingual film, with dialogue in Māori and English, has been supported by a $15,000 Aho Shorts Production Grant from Ngā Aho Whakaari, an organisation supporting Māori screen professionals.

The Disrupt creative team has also raised a further $20,000 from supporters on the arts crowdfunding website, Boosted. Ward-Lealand, whose acting career spans more than 30 years, says the film speaks to the destructive impact methamphetamine has on families.

Called Disrupt, the short film delves into meth addiction told through the perspective of a kuia (grandmother) experiencing first-hand the tight grip the drug has on her moko (grandson).

The cast includes award-winning actress Miriama McDowell, who acted in Head High and The Dark Horse, Joe Dekkers-Reihana who has acted in Shortland Street and Westside, Kararaina Rangihau from Waru, Ella Edwards from The Changeover and The Rehearsal and Māori Television presenter Piripi Taylor.

Joe Dekkers-Reihana is one of the actors in Disrupt / Source: File

Ward-Lealand will be joined by award-winning journalist and playwright Aroha Awarau, broadcaster and Māori Television news presenter Peata Melbourne and a production team of experienced crew members and emerging Maori screen professionals. Awarau is the writer and co-producer of Disrupt while Melbourne is the producer.

Awarau says there is barely a small town in Aotearoa that hasn’t had its community severely impacted by the scourge of P.

“In Disrupt, I want to show the personal cost of this addiction. This is my first foray into directing for the screen. I am very much looking forward to working alongside the actors so they can speak truth to their characters. This is an opportunity to learn from an experienced crew and test myself in the cinema arena.”

Awarau has been a print and television journalist for more than a decade and says he was inspired to write this film after years of covering the P epidemic and going into homes of families torn apart by the drug. He has also witnessed his own family members trying to beat their demons and overcome addiction.

“It is easily the most popular drug consumed in this country with over $1.4 million in cash spent on it every day. According to the Police Commissioner, it costs the country an estimated $20 million a week in social harm. I wrote Disrupt because I wanted to bring awareness to this problem  in Aotearoa.”

Aroha Awarau, Jennifer Te Atamira Ward-Lealand and Peata Melbourne / Source: Māori Television

Melbourne says that she aims to tell more cinematic stories with an indigenous lens.

Disrupt is a film about redemption. It’s also a film that we plan to submit to international film festivals and hope people will use the film as a resource to help deal with drug addiction problems within their own families.”

Filming for the film will start this Thursday and end on Sunday. It is expected to be released later in the year.