- Golden Globe Awards
On Tanna, a South Pacific island nation in the Vanuatu archipelago, Wawa, a young girl from one of the last remaining traditional tribes, falls in love with her chief’s grandson, Dain. When an intertribal war escalates, Wawa, unbeknownst to her, is betrothed as part of a peace deal. Because, as the haunting lyrics of a song heard on the opening credits informs us, “since the beginning of time the chiefs have arranged marriage".” But the two young lovers choose to walk a different path and run away, soon pursued by enemy warriors’ intent on killing them. Knowing they will be ostracized by their own people, for inevitably jeopardizing the tribes’ truce, Wawa and Dain nevertheless decide to follow their heart. The only way to be true to themselves, even if it means the ultimate sacrifice.Tales of forbidden love and star-crossed lovers’ are anything but new in cinema but Tanna should not be reduced to a Romeo and Juliet of the South Seas. It is also much more than a colorful ethnographic fiction or a simple doomed romance set amongst the lush jungle and deserted white beaches of an Eden-like tropical paradise. Inspired by true events that took place in 1987 among the Yakel tribe, it is the first movie ever made on the island and entirely spoken in the local Nauvhal dialect.Australian filmmakers Martin Butler and Bentley Dean came upon the story while working on a documentary on Tanna,which was named by James Cook , the first European to visit in 1774. Other filmmakers before them have been lured before by the mysterious and mystical appeal of the South Seas. Robert Flaherty went to Samoa for Moana (1926) and F.W.Murnau used Bora Bora as the setting for Tabu (1931) -two groundbreaking docudramas with an obvious kingship to Tanna.The directing tandem were fascinated by the way the two hundred members of the Yakel tribe, who don’t read or write, were still living according to their ancestral Kastom beliefs and rituals. Hunting with bows and using materials from the jungle to make clothes and build huts and functioning with no electricity. And how they managed over the years to resist the Christian missionaries, the colonial powers and the lure of money.The directors lived with the Yakel people for months to immerse themselves in their culture, develop the story and find their cast among the natives who had never seen a movie or a camera before, and were all willing participants. The two main leads, Marie Wawa and Mungau Dain have irrepressible charisma and come off totally credible and natural. Making their fate even more poignant.The film is an enchanting and bewitching universal tale that resonates like an ode to a simple life. A rare and enlightening window into a rapidly vanishing world that needs to be preserved, because as Bentley Dean believes, “We have so much to learn from them.”Filming was completed when the island was almost totally devastated by the cyclone Pam in March 2015. But a couple of months later the tribe was the first to be shown the film as promised by Butler and Dean. On a makeshift screen made of two queen size sheets sewn together and hung on a banyan tree! The following September the film was screened at the Venice Film festival’s Critic Weeks where it got the Audience Award.