Tanna, Australia’s nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, is a tale of love that we are all familiar with. A woman has a forbidden love despite being betrothed to another. But what sets Tanna apart from the other Romeo and Juliet stories is the moral implications that their forbidden love brings: Is true love worth endangering the lives of others?
After a long absence, Dain (Mungau Dain) returns home to the Yakel tribe and a childhood love is rekindled with Wawa (Marie Wawa). Tanna is largely seen through the eyes of Wawa’s sister Selin (Marceline Roft), a young girl with an innocent perspective. As Selin takes a walk with her grandfather and village shaman (Abli Nangia) to see spirit mother Yahul, an active volcano. While on this walk something happens between the shaman and a neighboring tribe that sets off a chain of events leading to the betrothal of Wawa to another man. To save themselves from a life of unhappiness, our star-crossed lovers run off leaving the Yakel tribe to deal with the violent repercussions.
Set on the island of Tanna in the tiny nation of Vanuatu, directors Bentley Dean and Martin Butler spent seven months with the Yakel learning the culture of the tribe. The Yakel had never seen a movie when Dean and Butler approached them about the possibility of filming. Upon seeing a screening of Australian period drama “Ten Canoes”, the chieftains realized the legacy a film like this could leave for their tribe and asked if they could start filming the next day. While the film is a work of fiction it is based on actual events that occurred within the tribe in the 1980’s. In the Q&A with the directors and actors, they revealed that all of the actors are members of the Yakel tribe and had no prior acting experience. Much of the film was unscripted, and the directors allowed the actors to draw on their history and culture to guide the story.