Ethnicity plays a key role in this film and in the real events on which it is based.



Here is something that is new in every sense: a film based on a true story shot on the South Pacific island of Tanna and played by non-professional actors using Nauvhal the native language there. The filmmakers are Bentley Dean and Martin Butler whose previous work has been in the realm of documentary but Tanna is far removed from that. It's an award-winning film that has a dramatic story to tell and it comes as a reminder that there are still some parts of the world remote enough for its inhabitants to live in a way that is centuries old even though the events depicted reached their potent climax as recently as 1987. 


At the heart of Tanna is a love story involving Dain (Mungau Dain) the grandson of the chief of the Yakel tribe and a girl of the same tribe, Wawa (Marie Wawa), who has just reached the age when she is considered old enough to marry. However, her bond with Dain is officially a secret even if some of the islanders gossip about their closeness, and that's because it is thought that the chief (Charlie Kahla) would not approve of the match. But before long there will be other developments which look set to prevent the couple from marrying. This is connected with the fact that life on Tanna has long involved distrust and violence between the Yakels and another tribe, that of the Imedin.


Despite the central plot line, Tanna is mainly memorable for portraying in all its complexity the struggle of a native people to maintain their traditional life-style. There are Christians nearby ready to convert the heathen   but, if resistance to that will be approved by many viewers, the old ways involve not only a belief in a spirit mother located in the island's volcano but customs such as the expectation that local women have a duty to accept arranged marriages. Furthermore, it is the old beliefs and attitudes, including the aggression of the Imedins to Wawa's grandfather because of his supposed powers as a shaman that caused their crops to fail, that make it difficult for peace to reign on Tanna.


Although Tanna lasts only 104 minutes, it does feel a bit stretched in its later stages and not all will take to the somewhat romanticised approach of the filmmakers (the romanticism is present in the music of Antony Partos with its inclusion of wordless female vocals and in the colour photography although the later fits well with cinema presentation). However, the unfamiliar location fascinates and the non-professionals play well, especially the young couple at the centre of the story and so too does Marceline Rofit as Wawa's concerned younger sister. Tanna is a relatively modest offering, but in its way it is also an extraordinary one. 




Cast: Mungau Dain, Marie Wawa, Charlie Kahla, Lingai Kowia,  Linette  Yowayin, Albi Nagia, Dadwa Mungau, Mungau Tainakou, Marceline Rofit, Mikum Tainakou,  Mungau Yokay.

Dir Bentley Dean and Martin Butler, Pro Bentley Dean, Martin Butler and Carolyn Johnson, Screenplay Bentley Dean, Martin Butler and John Collee, Ph Bentley Dean, Ed Tania Nehme, Music Antony Partos.


Contact Films-Yume Pictures.
104 mins. Australia/Vanuatu. 2015. Rel: 17 February 2017. Cert. 12A.