The mak ing of

The story be­hind the film that stole our hearts The film that the called “Unique… soul­ful… richly cin­e­matic”, that mag­a­zine de­scribed as “El­e­gantly edited by Ta­nia Michel Nehme… a stir­ring to the power of love ” and the re­viewed as “a con­sum­mate vis­ual

Island Life - - Tropical Delights -

It is a funny sight. Here we are, in the middle of Venice, walk­ing past float­ing palaces, slow mov­ing gon­do­las and hordes of tourists snap­ping away in all di­rec­tions. The won­drous St Mark’s Square is full of peo­ple who are not from Venice, but some­how be­long, in the middle of the chaotic, mar­velous, ‘Dis­ney­land-es­que’, scene that is all around. And right bang in the middle, there are five peo­ple from Tanna, dressed in their tra­di­tional cos­tume, look­ing pos­i­tively dark against the white stone, and the only peo­ple who def­i­nitely do not be­long in this far from na­ture, some­how dis­lo­cated land­scape. We are walk­ing across St Mark’s Square to catch the ferry that will take us to Lido Is­land, where the Venice In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val is tak­ing place. To­day is the of­fi­cial screen­ing of the movie, and the cast and crew are

hav­ing their shot at the red car­pet. The press in­ter­views are one of many photo ses­sions for th­ese guys, who have been launched into a world that is gal­ax­ies away from their uni­verse. Part ex­hausted, part ex­cited and part scared of all the com­mo­tion around them, one can’t help but won­der what they must think of this ‘tin blong waet man’. When we en­ter the press­room, where many ea­ger stars have been be­fore, dozens of pho­tog­ra­phers are wait­ing around the el­e­vated am­phithe­atre plat­form. The cast po­si­tion them­selves on the stage. The pho­tog­ra­phers shoot at them ‘Look right!’ ‘Look left!’ It is photo frenzy! Selin’s eyes, the lit­tle girl in the movie who stole our hearts, are wide open and her smile is go­ing from ear to ear. Dain and Wawa, the main ac­tors, are a lit­tle timid, not quite sure of what the fuss is all about, or what ex­actly is ex­pected of them. Act­ing humbly, they look shyly but proudly at the cam­eras, lights flash­ing all around, the most un­likely movie stars. Af­ter the press is sat­is­fied with the many pic­tures that will make the front page of the news­pa­pers the next day, we walk into the theatre. It is not the first time that the cast has seen the movie on the big screen, it was shown at Yakel vil­lage months ago, when it was first com­pleted, just af­ter cy­clone Pam hit the is­lands. It is the first time for me, though, and the rest of the au­di­ence in the theatre. The film is beau­ti­ful. It is ex­tra­or­di­nary. It is breath­tak­ing. It tran­spires the peace­ful, mu­si­cal rhythm of life in the is­lands. It is one of those few films that are sim­ply spe­cial, no other like it. At the end of the movie, I can’t hold back my tears, I hear oth­ers snif­fling be­hind me. The lights come on and the ac­tors re­ceive a stand­ing ova­tion from the au­di­ence. The cast is in­vited on stage for a round of Q&A. At the end of it, they break into dance, one of the tra­di­tional dances from Tanna. Later on, they will do the same, break­ing into dance and song, as they walk the mighty In­ter­na­tional Venice Film Fes­ti­val red car­pet, the same one that Johnny Depp walked a few days be­fore. I no­tice the re­ac­tion of peo­ple wher­ever we go and it dawns on me that what the peo­ple of Yakel are spread­ing in their wake is hap­pi­ness.

It all started back in 2013 when doc­u­men­tary film­maker Bent­ley Dean and his wife Janita Suter, de­cided that it was time to show their chil­dren a world out­side the sub­urbs of Mel­bourne, where na­ture was Queen and food did not come in cans and plas­tic wrap­pers. Bent­ley had been to Van­u­atu and Tanna back in 2004, while film­ing for SBS cur­rent affairs pro­gram Date­line, and shared his thoughts with Janita; what about spend­ing six months with the chil­dren at one of the tra­di­tional vil­lages in Tanna? In Bent­ley’s mind, there was also an­other thought, an idea he had, of mak­ing a fea­ture film, that would be acted not by ac­tors, but by the real peo­ple that lived in the vil­lage and would tell a story, not his story, but their story, in their own lan­guage, and fol­low­ing their kas­tom. Bent­ley had never made a fea­ture film be­fore but he was no stranger to work­ing with in­dige­nous and tra­di­tional so­ci­eties. In 2009, he and his part­ner Martin But­ler pro­duced and filmed the award win­ning doc­u­men­tary Con­tact, doc­u­ment­ing the first con­tact of the last desert peo­ple in Aus­tralia with ‘mod­ern’ civ­i­liza­tion. In later years, to­gether they made ‘First Foot­prints’ a four part doc­u­men­tary se­ries about Aus­tralia’s 50,000 years of Abo­rig­i­nal his­tory. Martin had spent the pre­vi­ous 25 years pro­duc­ing award-win­ning doc­u­men­tary re­ports for For­eign Correspondent, Four Cor­ners and Date­line. “When Bent­ley first told me his idea of go­ing to live on Tanna and mak­ing a fea­ture film, I thought it was an am­bi­tious plan, if not fool­hardy. Nei­ther of us had made fea­ture films be­fore. But we had the ad­van­tage of own­ing all the equip­ment that a two per­son crew would need for months of film­ing and had de­vel­oped a way of film­ing with tra­di­tional peo­ple based on mu­tual re­spect and per­sonal rap­port,” he ex­plained. It was Ja­cob Kapere, head of Tanna’s Cul­tural Cen­tre, who sug­gested Yakel as the vil­lage for Martin, Bent­ley and his fam­ily to spend some time in and per­haps, make a movie.

Yakel is one of the few vil­lages left in Van­u­atu that have cho­sen to re­main true to their kas­tom and fol­low a com­pletely tra­di­tional way of life. Their build­ings, uten­sils and clothes are all made from the ma­te­ri­als found in the sur­round­ing for­est. They hunt in the tra­di­tional way, us­ing bows and ar­rows and spears and tend to their veg­etable gar­dens. In Oc­to­ber 2013, with trep­i­da­tion, Bent­ley and Martin em­barked on the re­con mis­sion to see if the vil­lage would take them as guests and be happy to be part of this crazy movie pro­ject. Hav­ing no idea of what Yakel’s po­si­tion would be, on their first visit, they de­cided to show the Aus­tralian film Ten Ca­noes, as an in­tro­duc­tion to the type of film they would make. The peo­ple of Yakel, loved it, to­tally and com­pletely. Bent­ley and Martin re­turned to Aus­tralia and Bent­ley and Janita got the fam­ily ready for their big ad­ven­ture. wo months later, in Jan­uary 2014, they re­turned to Tanna, and to Yakel, where they would re­main, with­out leav­ing the

Mo­ments dur­ing film­ing: Bent­ley Dean holds the cam­era. In­side the hut, film editor Ta­nia Nehme with ac­tor Lin­gai Kowia. In Nam­bas, Bent­ley Dean and his sons, Martin But­ler, crew and cul­tural di­rec­tor Jimmy Joseph Nako at end right. Swim­ming in the river, Bent­ley, Janita and their sons. Marce­line Rofit ‘Selin” and Marie Wawa ‘Wawa’ on the wa­ter­fall.

Venice mo­ments. Left: The crew stands on one of Venice’s many bridges. Top right: Lin­gai Kowia, Marie Wawa, Marce­line Rofit, Jimmy Joseph and Mun­gau Dain. Bel­low right: Cast per­forms a dance on the In­ter­na­tional Venice Film Fes­ti­val red car­pet while crew watches.

cast­ing,” ex­plains Martin. “The chief of Yakel, Chief Char­lie, ac­tu­ally plays the Chief of Yakel. The Medicine Man plays the Medicine Man. Mun­gau who plays Dain, was the most hand­some man in the vil­lage and ev­ery­one read­ily agreed that he should play the lead­ing man. Marie, who plays Wawa, took a long time to find but the in­stant we saw her, we knew she was the one.” And this is how the peo­ple from Yakel and neigh­bor­ing vil­lages, peo­ple who had never seen a cam­era or a movie, who dress in clothes made with grass and are one of few re­main­ing hunter and gath­er­ing so­ci­eties, be­came ac­tors. In March 2014, Martin, Bent­ley, Janita, cul­tural di­rec­tor and trans­la­tor Jimmy Joseph Nako, aka JJ, and the cast, be­gan film­ing. Ev­ery morn­ing, they would get up, assem­ble their gear, and pro­ceed to the lo­ca­tion for the day. “It soon be­came clear that my fear of our two and four year olds get­ting lost in the jun­gle would not hap­pen,” ex­plains Janita. “It was

joy and per­sonal re­ward as a film pro­ducer. “For me, the most spe­cial thing about this film is that it tells the story of a com­mu­nity liv­ing un­der dif­fer­ent rules. Non­ma­te­ri­al­is­tic, able to live in com­plete har­mony with na­ture, right here and right now. It shows that the way we, ‘mod­ern’ so­ci­eties, live is not the only way.” For all those in­volved in the pro­ject, more than a com­mer­cial ven­ture, it was a pro­ject of love, to cre­ate a film that had never been done be­fore, doc­u­ment­ing the lives and kas­tom of such a unique so­ci­ety. Ev­ery kas­tom song, dance and prac­tice re­lated in the film are part of the real tra­di­tion of Yakel and neigh­bor­ing vil­lages and tribes. “We are proud of our kas­tom,” ex­plains JJ, “we want to keep our kas­tom alive and we would like to share it with the world. This is why we think this film is good,

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