Emma Bailey, Marketing Manager at the City Screen, York previews this week’s Discover Tuesdays presentation Tanna.
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Tanna is the first feature film shot entirely in Vanuatu, a South Pacific archipelago made up of 83 islands of volcanic origin.
Documentary filmmaker Bentley Dean first got the idea of making a film on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu after filming in 2004 for SBS’ international current affairs program, Dateline. In 2013 Dean returned with his family and co-director Martin Butler with the intention of making their first feature film together. Without a script, Butler and Dean approached Yakel, one of a number of villages in Tanna that has held on to their traditional lifestyle. Within a few days of living with the Yakel tribe, Butler and Dean had found their story. Without any actors available, they recruited the Yakel tribe to tell it.
Based on dramatic events that took place on the island in 1987, the film focuses on Wawa, a young girl on the brink of womanhood who falls in love with the village chief’s grandson, Dain. When the chief offers Wawa’s hand in marriage to a member of a warring tribe, the young lovers run away together without considering the implications of their actions.
Much of the action is observed through the eyes of Wawa’s younger and rebellious sister, Seline. In one of the many striking sequences in the film, Seline is taken by her grandfather to visit the active volcano on the island, known by the Yakel as their Spirit Mother ‘Yahul’, who teaches wisdom, knowledge and respect. Seline’s awe and wonder at seeing Yahul for the first time is captured wonderfully by Bentley and Dean.
Tanna is an incredibly impressive first feature from Butler and Dean. Covered in dense, lush rainforest, the natural beauty of the island provides the stunning backdrops, but it’s the nuanced and skilful performances by the islanders which brings this film to life. An incredible achievement considering the people of Yakel had no acting experience and had never seen a film before. Ultimately, Tanna is a story of the universally transformative power of love, and a rare view into a rapidly vanishing world.