Tanna, an exotic forbidden love story

15th November 2015 10:00 AM
Wawa and Dain in a scene from the film Tanna (2015). Wawa and Dain in a scene from the film Tanna (2015). PHILIPPE PENEL

SET on a remote Pacific island called Tanna, covered in rainforest and dominated by an active volcano, this heartfelt story - enacted by the Yakel tribe - tells of a sister's loyalty, a forbidden love affair and the pact between the old ways and the new.

Tanna is a small island in the South Pacific, part of the nation of Vanuatu.

The traditional way of life is still prevalent, so Western sensibilities have to be put to one side for this film featuring tribal dances, pig slaughtering and penis sheaths.

Wawa in make up in a shot from the film Tanna (2015).
Wawa in make up in a shot from the film Tanna (2015). PHILIPPE PENEL

Tanna is a production by Australian filmmakers Martin Butler and Bentley Dean.

Mr Butler said the story was not based on Romeo and Juliet, but on forbidden love.

"The Yakel people marry via arranged marriages, and the centre of the story is that two young Yakel people, Wawa and Dain, fall in love, but Wawa is promised to someone else," he said.

"If Wawa does not marry her designated fiancee, it could cause war between local tribes."

The story was developed by the filmmakers and the Yakel people, based on true events.

Bentley Dean lived in the village for almost a year with his family, getting to know the people of Yakel and putting together the film's story.

Martin Butler said they worked hard to honour the trust put in them by the people of the village.

"Bentley and I finished a documentary project and wanted to use the time to live with his family in a very different environment," Mr Butler said.

"He wanted to expose his children, then 2 and 4, to an environment different to the suburbs of Melbourne.

"He said to me, 'why don't we make a feature film while we are there?'.

"We wanted the film to be authentic to the culture that we were filming in, and very accessible and engaging to Western cinema audiences."

The challenge was to tell a story based on a different culture and then to make it into the familiar structure of a feature film.

The film won the Fedeora Award for Best Cinematography (International Film Critics Week) and the International Critics' Week Award, both at the Venice Film Festival 2015.

It was also nominated to Best film at the Zagreb Film Festival 2015.

At the Byron Bay Theatre on Wednesday, November 25, at 7pm plus a Q&A with Martin Butler.