Indigenous | Drama

Jennifer Ward-Lealand’s new directing project: From P to ponies

Above: Joe Dekkers-Reihana and Kararaina Rangihau in a scene from new te reo Māori drama 'Disrupt' / Supplied

By Rafael Franks, Te Rito journalism cadet

One of New Zealand’s most accomplished actors, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, who made her screen directing debut last year on a film about P-addiction, is the director of a new Māori language drama for Whakaata Māori.

Ward-Lealand was encouraged to pursue directing after her short film, Disrupt, won the Tinirau Prize at the Wairoa Film Festival, awarded to the best Māori film as voted by the audience. She has also finished shooting Poniponi, a children’s TV drama.

“If I hadn’t directed Disrupt I wouldn’t have had the confidence to direct Poniponi. I love working on kaupapa Māori projects. I had people that had faith in me and encouraged me to try screen directing like writer for Disrupt, Aroha Awarau and Poniponi producer, Nicole Hoey.”

Above: Critically acclaimed actor, turned director Jennifer Ward-Lealand will direct a new Māori language drama for Whakaata Māori (Māori Television) / Supplied

Ward-Lealand has been an advocate for the revitalisation of the language since dedicating her life to learning te reo Māori. She was recognised for her commitment when she was named New Zealander of the Year in 2020.

“I write and speak in te reo Māori every single day.”

Disrupt was filmed in 2021 and debuted at the Hawaii and New Zealand International Film Festivals that year. Last week it screened at both the Wairoa Film Festival and the Beverly Hills International Film Festival in Los Angeles.

The film delves into the devastating effects of methamphetamine on a whānau when a grandmother is the only person who refuses to give up on her drug-addicted grandson.

Ward-Lealand says winning the Tinirau Prize shows that the audience has resonated with the film’s important message and hopes that it encourages important discussions around P-addiction.

“The audience responding so positively to our film affirms for us the very reason we wanted to make Disrupt, to see how one family tries to deal with what is a huge problem throughout Aotearoa. It’s often the small, personal story that can affect the biggest change,” says Ward-Lealand.

Disrupt will screen at the Māoriland Film Festival at the end of this month and Poniponi will air later this year on Whakaata Māori.

Public Interest Journalism