The Review/Short Read/

One to Watch: Tanna

Epically romantic and aesthetically refreshing, Tanna is a season must-see

May 30, 2017


Martin Butler and Bentley Dean’s film is a folk tale of love, hope, and transformation. Wawa (Marie Wawa), a young girl from one of the last traditional tribes in the South Pacific, falls in love with her chief’s grandson, Dain (Mungau Dain), but when an intertribal war escalates, she unknowingly becomes betrothed as part of a peace deal. The young lovers run away and are pursued by enemy warriors intent on killing them. They must choose between their hearts and the future of the tribe, while the villagers must wrestle with preserving their traditional culture while adapting to the increasing demands for individual freedom.

“For a film made by what was fundamentally a two-person crew (Dean behind the camera, Butler on sound), Tanna is sharp on all counts.” —The Hollywood Reporter

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Being the only film to be shot entirely on location on the island of Vanuatu, Tanna is no ordinary story of star-crossed lovers. The film, which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2017, is about a society having to transform itself to adjust its customs to a new generation. Directors Butler and Dean (who lived with his wife and children in the island among the Yakel tribe for seven months during the shooting of the film) based the story on true events that happened on the island in 1980.

Selin (Marceline Rofit), Wawa’s rebellious little sister, is a clear highlight in the film. At first, Selin serves as a quiet observer to her sister’s story, but as the plot develops, she starts questioning her own role as a woman in the tribe. Through her eyes, we are able to get a sense of how Wawa challenges the patriarchal structure of the tribe, and moreover, how Wawa’s actions will directly affect the future generations of women in the Yakel tribe.

With breathtaking nature shots and stunning performances from real-life Yakel tribe members, Tanna converges into a beautiful, intimate portrait of a culture trapped between tradition and change.

Tanna opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, June 2.