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Tanna is a 2015 Australian-Ni-Vanuatu[5] film set on the island of Tanna in the South Pacific, depicting the true story of a couple who decided to marry for love, rather than obey their parents' wishes.[7] Starring Marie Wawa and Mungau Dain, the movie, which is in some ways similar to Romeo and Juliet, is based on an actual marriage dispute.[8]

Tanna (film).png
Film poster
Directed byMartin Butler
Bentley Dean[1]
Produced byCarolyn Johnson
Bentley Dean
Martin Butler[2]
Screenplay byMartin Butler
Bentley Dean
John Collee[3]
StarringMarie Wawa
Mungau Dain
Music byAntony Partos[4]
CinematographyBentley Dean[5]
Edited byTania Nehme[3]
Distributed byLightyear Entertainment
Release date
  • 7 September 2015 (2015-09-07) (Venice)
Running time
100 minutes
Box office$69,961[6]

Tanna was the first film to be shot entirely on location in Vanuatu.[9] The film won the Audience Award Pietro Barzisa at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival.[10] It was selected as the Australian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards,[8][11] and was nominated for the award in January 2017.[12]



On the island of Tanna, people following the Kastom have always enforced arranged marriages. The people of Kastom Road face sporadic conflicts with the Imedin tribe, while two followers of Kastom, Dain and Wawa, continue a secret love affair. Wawa's young sister Selin is impudent, stealing a penis sheath and running into the wilderness, berated for entering the forbidden zone where the Imedin once massacred their people. To teach Selin respect, her grandfather and the tribe's shaman takes her to the spiritual site of Yahul and the volcanoes. There, the Imedin attack the shaman, clubbing him, leaving him mortally wounded. Selin escapes and runs back to her people, who retrieve the shaman, while afraid his inevitable death will leave them vulnerable. The Imedin are summoned to the village to make peace. They trade pigs, which the shaman's murderers club to death just as they had the shaman, and Wawa is promised for marriage into the Imedin tribe.

Despite the arranged marriage, Wawa and Dain continue their affair. The elders learn of this, and plead to Wawa to give up the relationship. The elder women sympathize with Wawa for having to go through an arranged marriage, but tell her respect for her elders and the law will lead to happiness. Her peers also tell Wawa that she is not the only one whose interests are at stake. If the Imedin lose Wawa as a promised bride, they will likely seek revenge. Wawa reveals that she has already had sex with Dain, meaning she will be unacceptable to the Imedin anyway. Disgraced, Dain is exiled from the village. The elders continue to urge Wawa to accept her arranged marriage, pointing to the English royal family to prove arranged marriage means love.

Wawa joins Dain in the wilderness, and live among the volcanoes, while their people and the Imedin both search for them. The two eat poisoned mushrooms. Their people bury them, and the elders agree recognition of love marriage must be added to the Kastom to keep their culture alive.


The film was shot entirely on location in and around the village of Yakel on Tanna Island.[13] Co-director Bentley Dean lived with his family for seven months in Tanna. Most of the cast played their own roles in the film,[14][A] and Dain was cast because he was considered the village's most handsome man.[14] The film's dialogue is shot in the Nauvhal and Nafe languages, which are used in Yakel.[13][15] The cast members did not regard the filming as being difficult because their roles were "performing what we were used to in our daily life."[16] A copy of Ten Canoes was screened as an example for the actors.[17]

This is Martin Butler and Dean’s third collaboration, after the documentaries Contact and First Footprints.[18] Dean came to Vanuatu in 2003 to research a story on the John Frum movement for Dateline and wanted to return there to create something larger. Dean wanted to tell a local story and give his children a chance to live in the village, and developed the storyline in collaboration with the Yakel people.[19]


  • Marie Wawa as Wawa
  • Mungau Dain as Dain
  • Marceline Rofit as Selin
  • Charlie Kahla as Chief Charlie
  • Lingai Kowia as Father
  • Linette Yowayin as Mother
  • Albi Nangia as Grandfather and Shaman
  • Dadwa Mungau as Grandmother

Actor Mungau Dain died in January 2019, aged 24. He was married and had two children.[20][21]


Just after Cyclone Pam, a special screening was held for the tribe.[22] The film has screened at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival,[23] where it won the Audience Award Pietro Barzisa,[10] and Bentley Dean was awarded Best Cinematographer,[19] at the BFI London Film Festival,[24] and at the 2015 Adelaide Film Festival.[5]


Tanna has received critical acclaim. It has a score of 75% on Metacritic.[25] Kenneth Turan declared Tanna to be one of the best films about a South Pacific people.[26] The Guardian critic Luke Buckmaster gave it four stars, and credited the novice actors as "magnetic" and praised the cinematography, saying, "Tanna has a warm, shimmering vitality. Like the trees and the birds, the frame feels alive".[7] Variety's Richard Kuipers highlighted the aesthetics of the setting and shots, declaring "Visuals of lush forests, pristine beaches and barren black earth surrounding the volcano are beautiful without ever looking like a travelogue".[4] In The Washington Post, Stephanie Merry wrote the story was uncomplicated but the setting was spectacular, remarking "There’s something thrilling about a movie that introduces us to a corner of the world we never knew existed".[27] For The Globe and Mail, Brad Wheeler compared it to Romeo and Juliet and declared "Emotional notes are hit neatly and refreshingly".[28]

Glenn Kenny wrote a negative review in The New York Times, concluding, "Despite its best efforts, Tanna drifts into a mode of exoticism that renders it an ultimately frustrating experience".[29]


Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
AACTA Awards
Best Film Martin Butler, Bentley Dean and Carolyn Johnson Nominated [30]
Best Direction Martin Butler and Bentley Dean Nominated
Best Cinematography Bentley Dean Nominated
Best Original Music Score Antony Partos Won
Best Sound James Ashton, Emma Bortignon and Martin Butler Nominated
Academy Award Best Foreign Language Film Martin Butler and Bentley Dean Nominated [31][32]
African-American Film Critics Association Best Foreign Film Won [33]
ASE Award Best Editing in a Feature Film Tania Nehme Won [34]
FCCA Awards Best Film Martin Butler, Bentley Dean and Carolyn Johnson Nominated
Best Music Antony Partos Won
Best Cinematography Bentley Dean Nominated
Best Editor Tania Nehme Nominated


  1. ^ According to Jimmy Joseph Nako, the film’s cultural director: "The chief played the chief, the medicine man played the medicine man, the warriors played the warriors."[14]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Australian movie Tanna wins two major awards at Venice film festival". the Guardian.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Maricris Faderugao (5 November 2015). "'Tanna' brings Vanuatu's Shakespearean tale to Australia". International Business Times AU.
  4. ^ a b Richard Kuipers (9 September 2015). "'Tanna' Review: The First Film Shot in Vanuatu – Variety". Variety. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  5. ^ a b c "Tanna – Adelaide Film Festival 2015". Archived from the original on 2 February 2017.
  6. ^ "Tanna (2015) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 24 August 2016.
  7. ^ a b Luke Buckmaster (5 November 2015). "Tanna review – volcanic South Pacific love story shot entirely in Vanuatu". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  8. ^ a b "Australia selects 'Tanna' as foreign-language Oscar contender". SBS. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  9. ^ Harmon, Steph (6 January 2019). "Mungau Dain, Tanna star and 'Vanuatu's Brad Pitt', dies after untreated leg infection". Guardian Australia. Archived from the original on 7 January 2019. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  10. ^ a b Settimana Internazionale della Critica. "All Awards 2015 announced: Audience Award Pietro Barzisa to Tanna by Bentley Dean and Martin Butler".
  11. ^ Frater, Patrick (23 August 2016). "Australia Selects 'Tanna' as Foreign-Language Oscar Contender". Variety. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  12. ^ Samuelson, Kate (24 January 2017). "Here Are the 2017 Oscar Nominations". Time. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  13. ^ a b "Tanna: Yakel community's way of life unchanged by Hollywood acclaim". ABC News (Australia). 8 April 2017. Archived from the original on 9 April 2017. Retrieved 20 January 2019.
  14. ^ a b c Kathy Marks (11 September 2015). "Big-screen debut for Pacific Island tribe who regard Prince Philip as a god". The Independent.
  15. ^ Lamont Lindstrom (5 November 2015). "Award-winning film Tanna sets Romeo and Juliet in the south Pacific". The Conversation Australia.
  16. ^ Bodey, M. (2015, Oct 31). Aussies put tribe in the picture on world of film. Weekend Australian Retrieved from
  17. ^ "Australian film Tanna to tell Romeo and Juliet-like tale in Melanesia". SBS Movies.
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b Ben Bohane (15 September 2015). ""Tanna" film a hit at the Venice festival". Pacific Institute of Public Policy. Archived from the original on 20 October 2015. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  20. ^ Harmon, Steph (7 January 2019). "Mungau Dain, Tanna star and 'Vanuatu's Brad Pitt', dies after untreated leg infection". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  21. ^ Ives, Mike (10 January 2019). "Mungau Dain, Unlikely Pacific Island Film Star, Dies at 24". New York Times. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  22. ^ Garry Maddox. "Tanna: the ancient Vanuatu tribe who had never watched a film now star in one". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  23. ^ "La Biennale di Venezia – 8 September". Archived from the original on 1 October 2016.
  24. ^ Paul Heath (17 October 2015). "The 2015 BFI London Film Festival winners announced". The Hollywood News. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  25. ^ "Tanna". Metacritic. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  26. ^ Turan, Kenneth (22 September 2016). "Review: Tanna is a smart, refreshing story of star-crossed lovers". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  27. ^ Merry, Stephanie (29 September 2016). "'Tanna': A real-life 'Romeo and Juliet,' set amid warring tribes". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  28. ^ Wheeler, Brad (2 June 2017). "Review: Tanna is a smart, refreshing story of star-crossed lovers". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  29. ^ Kenny, Glenn (15 September 2016). "Review: In 'Tanna,' Lovers Are Torn Apart to Keep Tribal Peace". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  30. ^ "Hacksaw Ridge leads with 13 AACTA nominations". Sky News. 27 October 2016. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  31. ^ Nordyke, Kimberly (24 January 2017). "Oscars: 'La La Land' Ties Record With 14 Nominations". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  32. ^ "Oscar Nominations: Complete List". Variety. 24 January 2017. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  33. ^ Nordyke, Kimberly (12 December 2016). "'Moonlight' Named Best Picture by the African American Film Critics Association". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  34. ^

External linksEdit