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Displayed throughout the Venice International Film Critics’ Week 2015, winning the Audience Award, and nominated as Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars of the same year, Tanna was finally released in Italy the last May, even though in very few theatres. The movie caught the attention of the press when the directors, during the 72nd Venice International Film Festival, presented themselves along with five actors, or rather five natives and protagonists of the movie, in tribal clothes which visibly clashed with their colleague’s outfits.
The two Australian filmmakers, Martin Butler and Bentley Dean experimented a fictional film for the first time, but they tightly stuck with their documentary education: the story is based on real events happened in 1987 and the actors are real natives from a village called Yakel located on the Tanna Island (archipelago of Vanuatu in the South Pacific ocean), a place where the entire movie has been shoot. Therefore, there were no professional actors and scenography neither. To succeed at describing that little indigenous world with loyalty and respect, Butler and Dean moved on the island along with their families, to get to know their traditions deeply and to introduce the tribe to the movie theatre for the first time. Once explained what a film was, since they have never ever saw one before, and chosen the actors, they started shooting, but still, the production struggled a lot because of the natives life conditions: the lack of electricity, of running water and dust that damaged the cameras were only a few of the biggest problems that Butler and Dean had to face with.
Once the editing was completed, the two directors showed a premiere of the movie to the tribe, who passionately gave them a sacred root of kava (a plant from which you can obtain an intoxicating drink) and a chicken, as a gift. The productive behind the scenes, made the film an original and curious product already. As a matter of fact, during the viewing of it, the details are what can really make this attention and finesse appear, placed at the foundations of the full- length film. The natural and naive acting, the photography able to capture natural sceneries with an irresistible charming and the accurate representation of rules and traditions that control the tribe life, bring the film poetry closer to the one of the great masters like Herzog and Wenders. In fact, the native are not shown as a “freakshow” exposed to the western, yearning of exoticism audience, but rather as a community elected to look after a millenary tradition and, at the same time, driven by a form of non-civilisation, so genuinely human, to be open to change their strict own rules in the moment they turn out to be harmful and an end in themselves.
As a matter of fact, it’s on this point that the story of Butler and Dean is expressed, taking action on true events and converting them in something similar to Romeo and Juliet. Wawa and Dain (nephew of the leader of the tribe) are two teenagers in love who can’t be together because of the tribe rules (the Kastom), which forbids love marriages. In this manner, they are forced to run away into the forest to love each other completely free and to avoid the marriage between Wawa and a guy from the rival tribe, arranged only to stipulate peace for both communities. Unfortunately, the two kids will go through many hard times, as consequences for their opposite actions to the Kastom, and they will have to face an epic difficult choice: their happiness or the tribe safety, the community or their own good. But their extreme act will be even more redemptive compared to what the tribe expected them to do for the sake of it.
Benedetta Pini – Translated by Beatrice Birolo