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Published October 5th, 2016
'Tanna' is a Genuine Story Of Love Among The People Of Vanuatu
Tanna Photo provided

"Tanna," is a movie and a voyage to the small South Pacific island of Vanuatu; rarely has a fiction been so close to reality. It is a geographical exploration, and even more importantly, an ethnological voyage; it is a love story; it also shows the challenges faced by a self-governing people almost overtaken by those who conquered them. In this movie, the people of Tanna show us how to stay true to one's traditions while continuing to be relevant as the world changes around them.
"Tanna" will play at the Orinda Theater for a week starting on Oct. 7, part of the International Film Showcase that, almost every month, shows a foreign movie not yet released locally.
"Tanna" recounts a true story that took place there in 1987, told and played by the children of those who lived it. According to ancestral ways, it is the parents that decide who marries whom. Marriage is a way to create peace and to mix the different tribes. This rule was never challenged until a young couple fell in love and tried to change the "kastom" (custom).
The story is simple and has been told many times, in many different ways, by many different cultures. But the questions that are asked here are not trivial. First we are curious about these people who run around wearing grass skirts or penis sheaths. We suffer for them when we see that this small number of humans, living on an island of only 210 square miles kill each other over old grudges that do not make any sense to us. We wonder with them about the nature of love, of attachment, of belonging and identity. And we want them to be able to preserve their island of uniqueness in our ocean of conformity.
It is a drama, of course, with moments of lightness and joy. The people of Tanna teach us a lesson as they gain heightened awareness and understand the futility of their disputes.
One of the most remarkable features of this movie, and why it is an absolute must-see, is that it is as close as it could ever be to real life. The two Australian directors, Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, came from the documentary field. They decided together to create a fiction on Tanna, they went there with that desire but no real storyline. What inspired them was that this group of people living so close to our civilization and its facilities have deliberately decided to live without it.
While living on the island they were told the love story and decided this would be their movie.
The film is performed entirely by the Yakel tribe on Tanna. As Butler explains it the chief plays the chief, the medicine man plays the medicine man, etc. The only person not from the Yakel tribe is Wawa, the young girl, because all the girls from the village were too shy and would never look the young man in the eye or get close to him. The young girl who plays Wawa is from a village close to the coast.
When the two directors arrived on Tanna, the villagers, who live without electricity, had never seen a movie before. After seeing one on the laptop of the two producers, they decided to go along.
There was no script to the movie. Every day, the directors would gather with the villagers and discuss what they wanted to achieve.
Butler and Dean came back to the island in 2015 to show the movie to the islanders. The devastating cyclone Pam had killed many, and even if there was no casualty in the Yakel village, all the habitations and many trees had been destroyed. They nonetheless gathered to see the movie.
Dean says that the next morning they gave the two men the best review ever. "The chief of the village came to us and said, 'We know you and Martin came here with your idea to make a film with your equipment and stuff, but we just want to inform you that we consider this our film.'"
More information at www.lamorindatheatres.com.

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