69 Jonson St
Byron Bay NSW 2481
Based on a true story and performed by the people of Yakel
Screening with Co-Director Martin Butler in conversation and audience Q & A
Based on a true story and performed by the people of Yakel, Tanna is a feature film set on a remote south pacific island of Vanuatu that tells the true forbidden love story of a young girl Wawa, who falls in love with her chief’s grandson, Dain. When an intertribal war escalates, Wawa is unknowingly betrothed as part of a peace deal and the young lovers flee pursued by enemy warriors intent on killing them.
Tanna recently won best feature film of International film critics’ week – an independent section of Venice film festival and Bentley Dean Best DOP (director of photography). Using an intimate and immersive style of filmmaking, the film was Co-directed by documentarians Bentley Dean and Martin Butler. The filmmakers lived amongst the Yakel tribe in Vanuatu with their families for seven months to make the film, primarily with only themselves as the two person crew, a Yakel cultural Director JJ Nako and the Yakel people as the cast.
The Yakel people are one of a number of tribes in the Tanna region who have rejected western clothes, money and school and held on to their fully traditional ‘Kastom’ lifestyle and belief system. The Yakel still hunt with bows and arrows and make their clothes and houses entirely from materials gathered in the jungle. Despite this, the film explores the tension between preserving and maintaining traditional customs and evolving with the communities demands for individual freedoms.
‘Life met art’ during the incredible process of casting and creating the film with the local people. Explains Director Martin Butler. ‘The chief of Yakel plays the Chief of Yakel. The medicine man plays the Medicine man….The story and dialogue were developed through workshopping and improvisation on location.”
‘One day the men sung a song about two lovers who dared defy the ancient laws of marriage 20 years earlier’ explains Butler. ‘The story of the lovers changed the course of Kastom tribal martial laws and the film is a cinematic translation of that song.’
Butler and Dean have been making and co-producing together for more than seven years, Dean on camera and Butler on sound. Their collaborations have included Contact and the four part documentary series First Footprints about Aboriginal Australia.
The Yakel are natural storytellers and amazingly the very first rehearsal made the cut into the final film, the scene where chief Charlie teaches the peace song to the men of Yakel. Bentley remembers feeling ‘goose-bumps’ as he captured these extraordinarily nuanced performances.
Filming on location at the volcano was a memorable, sometimes scary experience “Every eruption was real… On the last trip with Dain and Wawa, a perfectly timed eruption created what could be one of the best rendezvous of lovers of cinema!’ says Co-director Bentley Dean.
Tanna was the first film to be shot completely in the stunning green landscapes of Vanuatu and had its Australian premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival in October.
ABOUT MARTIN BUTLER
Martin studied politics and economics at Oxford University and then went to work for the manager of ‘The Who’ at his palace on the Grand Canal in Venice. In 1981 he migrated to Australia and spent the next 25 years producing award winning documentary reports on ABC’s Fours Corners and Foreign Correspondent, and SBS’s Dateline. In 2009 he teamed up with Bentley Dean to make Contact, a film about the last first-contact in the Western Desert of Australia. They made the four part documentary series First Footprints about Australia’s 50,000 year Aboriginal history in 2013.
ABOUT JJ NAKO
Jimmy Joseph Nako (JJ) was brought up traditionally in the next village to Yakel, but as well as learning the Kastom ways he also attended school, completing high school on the island of Espirito Santo. He speaks impeccable English and returned to his village to found the school there. He knows everyone, is hugely respected and has deep knowledge of Kastom. He was our translator, cultural interpreter, guide and advisor. On location he would suggest script lines, guide the actors and even record sound. He was the essential lynchpin of communicating and negotiating with the tribe. Without his constant input over 6 months this film would not have been made. He continues to live traditionally and wants to start a Kastom School that combines traditional knowledge with the national curriculum.
In 2007 JJ translated, narrated and starred in the British documentary series Meet the Natives, where along with Albi Nangia, Posen Yarbitang, and Chief Yapa, he met Prince Philip in Buckingham Palace.