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Pacific News Minute: Tanna: A Film Shot Entirely in Vanuatu Gets Oscar Nod


One movie got 14 Oscar nods yesterday, but in much of the Pacific, La La Land has to share the headlines with Tanna, a film shot entirely on location in a village in Vanuatu. More on the “Best Foreign Language Film” nominee from Neal Conan in Today’s Pacific News Minute.

Tanna is the name of the island where the movie’s set. And the language in question is Nauvhal, spoken by a few thousand members of the Yakel tribe.

Until two Australian filmmakers arrived to pitch the project, few had ever seen a movie, much less acted in one.  The film’s cultural director, Jimmy Joseph Nako, told The Independent that most villagers played their own parts.

“The Chief played the chief, the medicine man played the medicine man, the warriors played the warriors.”

And the first time actors won raves, Luke Buckmaster in The Guardian gushed, “Performances from the untrained cast are magnetic.” And he credited lush Tanna itself, and especially a volcano that “Showers the air with bright orange confetti-like lava.”

Tanna is the first feature for directors Bentley Dean and Martin Butler.  Along with John Collee, they wrote the script in close collaboration with the Yakel people. While the tale of star-crossed lovers has a passing resemblance to Romeo and Juliet, it’s based on a true story.

Bentley Dean told the ABC’s Pacific Beat Program, that he can’t wait to bring his cast to Hollywood  “It’s a dream come true, ” he said.

Asked if a tiny, traditional village might be overwhelmed by its sudden fame, Bentley said the directors had talked that over with the chiefs: “Essentially, the Chiefs said, ‘Listen, this is something we welcome, we want people to come and learn and if it simply gets too much, we just shut down the roads.’”

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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