Pacific News Minute: Star of Vanuatu’s Oscar-Nominated ‘Tanna’ Dies in Port Vila

Jan 15, 2019

Mungau Dain
Credit Domenico Stinellis / Associated Press

Sad news from Vanuatu, of the death last week of Mungau Dain. Two years ago, the young star of the film “Tanna” was headed to Hollywood to celebrate the film’s Oscar nomination.

Janita Suter, the location producer for the movie, said that Dain had moved to the capital, Port Vila, from his home village in hopes of getting a temporary visa to work as a seasonal fruit picker in Australia or New Zealand. He cut his leg on New Year’s Eve, but failed to get treatment and developed sepsis.

Suter, her husband Martin Butler and their children lived in Dain’s village for seven months while the film was being made. Butler, who co-directed “Tanna,” told the Los Angeles Times he was devastated by the news.

“He was so fit and young and gorgeous,” Butler said. “He was a great example of how you can live a totally different type of life and still be completely happy.”

On the island of Tanna, many villagers live by traditional Melanesian rules known as Kastom, with thatched huts and a sharing economy. Butler said that when they arrived in the village of Yakel, it was immediately clear that the elders would be doing the casting. He said they picked Dain as the male lead because he was the best looking man in the village.

“Tanna” won eight awards at international film festivals and an Oscar nomination as best foreign language film. At the Venice Film Festival, Dain told an interviewer: “This is such a good place, with many buildings, many cars, many people . . . but my life here is not as good as my life back at home.”

The New York Times cited a tourist from San Diego as reporting that after Dain’s coffin was flown back to Tanna, the truck carrying it back to his village was thronged with people, some weeping.

Mungau Dain was in his twenties; he leaves a wife, Nancy, and two children.