There is nothing quite like a group of men wearing feathers and penis sheaths to turn heads, even at a film festival crawling with celebrities. Tanna, an Australian film shot in Vanuatu with a local cast – Tanna is an island in the Vanuatan archipelago – screened on Tuesday at the Venice Film Festival.
For the visiting islanders, it was a chance to eat pizza and master unfamiliar tasks like flicking a light switch. Worldly Venetians discovered that they could still be surprised by tourists, despite hosting 10 million of them a year.
Tanna is a tragedy about two lovers torn apart when Marie Wawa is promised to another man as part of a peace deal in a bloody land dispute with a neighbouring village. It was made over 14 months by Bentley Dean and Martin Butler, who had previously worked together on two projects about Aboriginal history – Contact and First Footprints for the ABC. Dean had visited Vanuatu in 2004 for the SBS Dateline program and was keen to return. “My wife and I had always thought it would be good to take our very young children to a place that would wire their brains at a very young age to thinking there is more to life than the suburbs of Melbourne, so we embarked on a bit of social engineering, really.” Read more