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

Jennifer Ward-Lealand's new directing project: From P to ponies
Photo credit: Supplied

One of New Zealand's most accomplished actors is continuing her work behind the camera, directing a new children's TV drama set on a horse farm.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand made her screen directing debut last year on a film about P addiction.

She was encouraged to pursue directing after her short film, Disrupt, won the Tinirau Prize at the Wairoa Film Festival on the weekend - awarded to the best Māori film as voted by the audience.

She has also finished shooting Poniponi, a te reo Māori drama with a cast of children for Maori Television.

"If I hadn't directed Disrupt I wouldn't have had the confidence to direct Poniponi," Ward-Lealand said.

"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."

Ward-Lealand has been an advocate for the revitalisation of the language since dedicating her life to learning te reo Māori and 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."

Ward-Lealand filmed Disrupt in 2021 and it debuted at the Hawaii and New Zealand International Film Festivals in 2021.

Last week it screened at both the Wairoa Film Festival and the Beverly Hills International Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Disrupt 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 said winning the Tinirau Prize shows audiences have resonated with the film's important message and hopes 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," Ward-Lealand said. It's often the small, personal story that can affect the biggest change."

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

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