Tanna: A South Pacific Valentine

Carbon Arc is finally back after the holiday hiatus and what a way to kick the season off! In our first week we screened a sold out showing of Ira Sachs' coming-of-age drama Little Men. It was also the first night of our collaboration series with the Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival, where we screen HIFF shorts before features. Filmmaker Stephanie Young introduced her documentary short Masculins, the first of eight shorts that have been programmed.

Audience members showed that nothing would get in their way this past Friday as they braved freezing temperatures to watch Tanna, the South Pacific love story of Wawa and Dain based on the story of a real life forbidden romance in 1987. The tale was shared with directors Bentley Dean and Martin Butler after the former lived with his family for 7 months on the Vanuatu island from which the film gets its name. The result of their close collaboration with the local Yakel people is this gorgeous Oscar nominated film, relatable to many and the perfect way to start the Valentine's Day festivities.

Yakel natives Marie Wawa and Mungau Dain play the leads, Wawa and Dain.

Yakel natives Marie Wawa and Mungau Dain play the leads, Wawa and Dain.


Tanna marks Dean and Butler's first feature film outside of the documentary world. They haven't strayed too far from the filmmaking of their previous successes: the way Dean, who doubled as cinematographer, framed his shots made every small moment feel documented as if the camera stayed recording until the perfect expression was captured from the non-professional actors. Speaking of the actors, programmer Zack Miller pointed out in his pre-screening introduction that the actors in the film were the people of the small community. Each member took on the role that they would have suited in the situation. They may have seen cameras in the past as documentary crews had been there before, but the way they performed in front of them was remarkable. One of the greater performances came from Marceline Rofit as Wawa's rebellious younger sister, Selin, who was given almost more focus than the two leads as she introduced us to each important plot point , running around the village and pushing her limits (as kids so often do).

The crew was limited to just Dean and Butler. Thanks to his familiarity behind the camera, Dean shot a vibrant and lush scenery that also becomes a character itself. It's been said before, but the most beautiful footage in the movie was anything that involved the active volcano close to the community. We first see it when a nearby tribe, the Imedin, brutally attack Selin's grandfather, the eruption in the background adding intensity to what is happening in the foreground. Later, Wawa and Dain are silhouetted by another eruption, now symbolizing passion.

The imposing presence of the volcano adds to the visual splendour of  Tanna.

The imposing presence of the volcano adds to the visual splendour of Tanna.


As the two soulmates continue on their journey, separating themselves from their former tribe and keeping hidden from the Imedin, it's hard not to compare the subject matter to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Wawa and Dain defy the Yakel by sleeping together, straining an already tense relationship between the tribes. To avoid a life apart the two eat poisonous mushrooms, a fate very similar to that of the bard's young lovers. Overall, Tanna starting off this season of Carbon Arc was an incredible choice amongst other amazing screenings to come.

Join us this Friday, February 17th at 7pm with Pablo Larraín's Golden Globe nominated Neruda, a crime drama biopic of the famous poet starring Gael García Bernal that comes highly anticipated, especially after seeing his other feature for the year, Jackie. Following that we have the Iranian film Inversion this Saturday, a cat documentary from Istanbul called Kedi next week, then later a double feature of the Oscar nominated A Man Called Ove and local favourite Werewolf directed by Ashley McKenzie that's been getting a lot of attention at Germany's Berlinale Film Festival. We'll be lucky enough to have Ashley attend the screening, and will be having a Q&A afterwards.