Jennifer Ward-Lealand makes her directorial debut with a short film about the impact of methamphetamine
The devastating impact of methamphetamine or “P” on a family is the theme of a new short from actress-turned-director Jennifer Te Atamira Ward-Lealand.
The 13-minute film, titled Disturbpremiered at a film festival in Hawaii and last week it screened at the Beverly Hills International Film Festival in Los Angeles and the Wairoa Film Festival, where it won the Tinirau Audience Award.
It is also on the program at the Whānau Marama New Zealand International Film Festival in October and is a finalist in the prestigious festival’s Ngā Whanaunga Māori Pasifika short film competition.
The cast includes award-winning actress Miriama McDowell (Head up, the black horse), Joe Dekkers-Reihana (Shortland Street, west side), Kararaina Rangihau (Waru), Ella Edward (change, repetition) and Piripi Taylor (Disney’s Moana).
Watch a preview on YouTube:
Ward-Lealand said methamphetamine was a huge problem in New Zealand and the best idea she got of its impact was talking to people who had a family member who was addicted.
Disturb delves into methamphetamine addiction through the perspective of a kuia (grandmother) experiencing firsthand the tight grip the drug has on her moko (grandson).
“So understanding what it is when they come in, when they come down; what the family needs to do to deal with it; if the person stays in the house or out of the house…
“A lot of families have to avoid their child because they can’t take it anymore. So that was my best research, was to talk to someone who had been through this.”
The film did not claim to depict what other families have endured – rather it was a snapshot through the eyes of one family.
“It’s not just about seeing a child who is in this condition, it’s about seeing how the parents had to deal with it. When the child comes to the hospital and then the parents show up also in the hospital and they haven’t seen him for a few years and they had to shut the door on him.
“They’re still angry, they’re still hurt.”
At the center of the film is the grandmother who still holds out hope, Ward-Lealand said The first standing.
“A grandparent’s love is a different kind of love…a grandparent has another, slightly removed in that he doesn’t have day-to-day responsibility, but a deeper love he has for his grandchild.
“So at the heart of it all is a grandmother’s love for her moko and that hopefully gives us some hope.”
Ward-Lealand said everyone who worked on it was thrilled to have won the Tinirau Award at the Wairoa Film Festival.
“It’s so gratifying because it means it’s resonated with that group of people – that’s what you’re hoping for.”
She and the producers were unable to make it to any of the film festivals, including Auckland.
“You just hope there are people who take something away from it and obviously in Wairoa they did and we’re delighted.”
Ward-Lealand has been performing on stage for 20 years, but her first inclination was to refuse to become a director.
A major challenge was shooting scenes out of order. “It’s pretty rare to shoot things in order, so you really have to know as an actor and as a director where you’re coming from and where you’re going.”
She said that as a first-time director, she knew she could draw on the talents of everyone on the team.
“You don’t have to know everything…don’t think you have to know everything before you start.”
Disturb was produced by Māori television newscaster and presenter Peata Melbourne. It was filmed in central Auckland with a production team made up of experienced crew members and emerging Maori screen professionals.
The bilingual film, with dialogue in Maori and English, was supported by a $15,000 Aho Short Film Production Grant from Ngā Aho Whakaari, an organization supporting Maori screen professionals.