'Tanna' brings Vanuatu's Shakespearean tale to Australia

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"Tanna" cast members
Cast members (L-R) Marie Wawa, Lingai Kowia, a guest, Mungai Dain and Jimmy Joseph Nako attend the photocall for the movie "Tanna" at the 72nd Venice Film Festival, northern Italy September 8, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

The critically-acclaimed Australian film “Tanna” has won the audience award for best feature film in the International film critics’ week in Venice film festival last September. The film is about two star-crossed lovers who fall in love with each other against their family’s wishes.

The title of the film is lifted from an island of the same name that houses a village called Yakel, which is home to one of the world’s last tribal societies. Tanna is the first film that is entirely shot in Vanuatu.

The film is co-directed by Bentley Dean and Martin Butler, who continue the long line of Australian film makers in the drama genre. In close collaboration with the Yakel people, Dean and Butler wrote the screenplay with assistance from John Collee whose writing credits include “Happy Feet” and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.” Tania Michel Nehme of “Ten Canoes” edited the film.

Though the plot is likened to Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet," it is based on a true story in the 1980s according to The Guardian. The protagonists named Wawa (Marie Wawa) and Dain (Mungau Dain) are both from the same tribe but Wawa’s family has already arranged her marriage to another boy to settle a long-standing feud between the two communities. The filmmakers were told of this great love story during the time that they spent in the community even before the production began.

Critics marvelled at the performances of the untrained cast. Variety said, “Wawa is luminous in the central role and has terrific screen chemistry with well-cast leading man Dain.”

In reality, Tanna is not as remote as it was before. Most of its inhabitants are already acquainted with modern utilities such as shopping stores and mobile phones. International tourists frequently flock the island and Yakel is a popular tourist site which is located near the town’s centre.

The film opened in late October.

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