Pa­cific is­land movie star dies in mid-20s

Times Colonist - - Arts - NICK PERRY

WELLING­TON, New Zealand — Mungau Dain had never con­sid­ered act­ing be­fore he starred in the Os­car-nom­i­nated film Tanna. He got the role be­cause his el­ders de­cided he was the best-look­ing guy in their tra­di­tional vil­lage on the Pa­cific is­land na­tion of Van­u­atu.

They would later de­scribe him as their an­swer to Brad Pitt.

Dain died Satur­day in the cap­i­tal Port Vila, af­ter con­tract­ing a leg in­fec­tion that wasn’t quickly treated. He was in his mid-20s.

Martin But­ler, who co-di­rected Tanna, said Dain wasn’t a nat­u­ral ac­tor, but was very en­thu­si­as­tic, learned quickly, and ended up giv­ing a fab­u­lous per­for­mance. The 2015 movie won a num­ber of awards, in­clud­ing two at the Venice Film Fes­ti­val, and was nom­i­nated for an Acad­emy Award for best for­eign-lan­guage film.

Dain is sur­vived by his wife, Nancy, and two chil­dren. His vil­lage, Yakel, on Tanna is­land, re­mains in a tra­di­tional two-week mourn­ing pe­riod.

Jimmy Joseph, the cul­tural di­rec­tor for Tanna is­land, said Dain was quiet, hum­ble and re­spected in Yakel, where he had cho­sen to re­main liv­ing even af­ter achiev­ing some fame in the movie. He said Dain never drank or smoked.

Peo­ple in the vil­lage typ­i­cally choose to live as they have for cen­turies, in sim­ple thatch huts and wear­ing nothing but grass skirts or a pe­nis shield called a nam­bas. They raise crops and pigs, and ob­serve a tra­di­tional way of life known as kas­tom.

But the vil­lage isn’t com­pletely iso­lated from mod­ern life. When villagers make the trek to the is­land’s main town to sell the cof­fee beans they’ve grown or buy rice, they usu­ally wear clothes. Some have cell­phones, which they charge with small so­lar pan­els.

When Aus­tralia-based But­ler and Bentley Dean de­cided to make the movie, which is loosely based on a true story, But­ler said they quickly re­al­ized the vil­lage el­ders would be do­ing the cast­ing. He said Dain looked too old for the role with his full beard, but 10 min­utes later, he had shaved it off at their re­quest.

He said he fondly re­mem­bers how awk­ward Dain was when try­ing to act in a scene in which he was sup­posed to lift co-star Marie Wawa in his arms and carry her along a river bed.

But­ler said he and Dean plan to travel to Yakel at the end of the mourn­ing pe­riod to join the vil­lage in cel­e­brat­ing Dain’s life.

“I was to­tally dev­as­tated. He was so fit and young and gor­geous. His wife is fab­u­lous and the kids are great,” But­ler said. “He was a great ex­am­ple of how you can live a to­tally dif­fer­ent type of life and still be com­pletely happy.”

Lo­ca­tion pro­ducer Janita Suter, who lived in Yakel for seven months dur­ing film­ing with her hus­band, Dean, and their chil­dren, said if there was an award for most im­proved ac­tor, it would have to go to Dain. She said she doesn’t think he’d even seen a movie be­fore act­ing in one.

“He was a re­ally proud am­bas­sador for his peo­ple,” she said.

She said Dain had been stay­ing in Port Vila for the past cou­ple of months as he tried to get a tem­po­rary visa to go to Aus­tralia and earn some money pick­ing fruit. She said a doc­tor had ex­plained that Dain had got an in­fec­tion in his leg that he didn’t treat and by the time he was taken to the hos­pi­tal he was un­con­scious and likely in sep­tic shock.

Mungau Dain at the Venice Film Fes­ti­val in 2015. Dain starred in the Os­car-nom­i­nated film Tanna.

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