Slough Cooperative Film Society Slough Cooperative Film Society

The Society has been showing the best of world and independent cinema in Slough for 70 years


13th February 2018 DATCHET VILLAGE HALL


Australia 2015 104 mins

Dain Mungau Dain Directors Bentley Dean, Martin Butler
Wawa Marie Wawa Writers Bentley Dean, Martin Butler,
Chief Charlie Grandfather, Shaman
Marceline Rofit
Chief Charlie Kahla

Albi Nangia

John Collee in collaboration
with the people of Yakel
Bentley Dean
Tania Nehme
Father Lingai Kowia Music Anton Partos
Dadwa Mungau
Linette Yowayin

There’s something thrilling about a movie that introduces us to a corner of the world we never knew existed. Tanna is that kind of film. It was shot on the remote South Pacific island that gives the movie its name with a cast composed entirely of local non-actors. The people of Yakel village live off the land, ignoring the modern world while adhering to a set of traditional rules known as the Kastom.

The Kastom is, in some ways, the tribe’s salvation, but it may also spell its doom, thanks to a couple of star-crossed lovers. The story sounds a lot like “Romeo and Juliet,” but it’s based on real events.

We are introduced to this world through a rebellious little girl named Selin, who watches as her older sister Wawa falls in love with Dain, the grandson of the tribe’s chief. In their culture, marriage is not a union of love, but a strategic alliance, and Wawa is betrothed to a man in another warring tribe. That marriage is supposed to heal old wounds, uniting the antagonists in peace after years of violent feuding. Of course, Wawa and Dain have other ideas.

Tanna poster

This rather simple tale unfolds against a stunning backdrop. The island of Tanna is about as untouched as you can imagine. Wawa and Dain, who had been childhood friends before he left their village for parts unknown, first reunite in a forest amid ferns, palms and other lush foliage, and their instantaneous love only seems more predestined in this Shangri-La.

The tribe’s people also make frequent trips to the island’s active volcano, which adds a mystical element to the movie. In one striking scene, Selin and her grandfather ascend the mountain at dusk — shadowy figures walking in front of a burst of smoke, ash and embers.

The movie’s Australian directors, Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, who wrote the script with John Collee, have an attention to earthly detail that gives the movie a beauty to rival a nature documentary. But they also have a keen anthropological eye. The pair spent seven months with the tribe, getting to know its members and their traditions and rituals, which are seamlessly integrated into the plot, educating the viewer without making the tribe’s experience seem overly exotic.

At times, the movie appears to favor the careful study of Yakel’s culture over the emotion of the story, which takes some of the impact out of the climax. Even so, the movie is a tremendous accomplishment, especially considering that the cast had never seen cameras before — much less movies — yet still agreed to star in the drama. Their performances are as stunning as the setting, and that’s truly saying something.

Stephanie Merry at