Tanna [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (4th May 2017).
The Film

“Tanna” (2015)

Taking place in a small village in the jungles of Tanna, the Yakel tribe is getting ready for the coming-of-age ceremony for Wawa (played by Marie Wawa). While she is in some ways excited she is more excited about her blossoming love for Dain (played by Mungan Dain), the tribe chief’s handsome grandson. The two often share moments away from the others but their fate of a future together seems unlikely as the tribe’s tradition is for marriage to be arranged by the elders and not by the individuals.

While the tribal life in the jungle seems peaceful, there is threat from neighboring areas. The tribe is involved with an ongoing dispute over land with the neighboring Imedin tribe, who are known for their more aggressive ways. But when negotiations for peace take place, one of the exchanges made is for an arranged marriage between Wawa and the Imedin tribe’s chief’s son, highly going against the wishes of Wawa and Dain.

“Tanna” was shot on the island of Tanna on location with real tribespeople of the Yakel tribe, being the first narrative film ever to be shot in the native Nauvhal language. Australian filmmakers Martin Butler and Bentley Dean had done documentary work in the past and this is their first narrative feature film. Dean lived on the island for a few months with his family looking to possibly make a film. Becoming friendly with the tribespeople and learning about their culture and traditions, Dean looked at possibly making a narrative film with the people on location, but the tribespeople had never seen a movie before. To convince them, Dean showed the Australian film “Ten Canoes” which was the first film to be completely in Australian Aboriginal languages. They were all for getting together to make a film, but plans needed to be made to have the equipment available, logistical concerns, and of course an idea for a story to tell. It was decided the story was to be about arranged marriage and how the tradition ended. In the 1980s the suicide rate among young people was rising due to the issue of arranged marriage - with younger generations wanting to accept marriage over love rather than tradition. The suicide rate rising affected the birth rate, and that lead to the eventual change in tradition from “arrangement” to “choice”.

For the characters, everyone essentially played themselves - using their real names and real positions. The chief was the chief in the film. The medicine man was the medicine man. The tasks done, the clothes worn, the rituals performed were authentically part of the village and the locations were also right around their homes, with a few additional shots at further areas such as the beautiful locations at waterfalls and volcanoes. As the filmmakers had documentary experience the film does in fact feel more like a documentary, capturing the everyday lives of the people from daily routines, playful comedy of the children, and also more serious issues such as disputes between local tribes and the dangers that lurk in certain areas of the jungle. And in addition the greens of the jungles and the dangerous beauty of the volcanoes are absolutely gorgeous with many memorable shots of nature throughout.

“Tanna” is an original piece of work for many reasons but it is not a perfect film in any way. The story does have its clichés and there are certain points where the plot stalls for a while and does not seem to move forward. But considering this was a film by first time filmmakers and acted by first time actors who had only seen one film in their lives, it is quite an accomplishment what was captured. The island of Tanna is just one of 82 islands of The Republic of Vanuatu. While English, French, and the hybrid language Bislama are the three mainly spoken, there are 113 indigenous languages spoken by various tribes across the country. Considering the area and the total population, the density of languages is the highest in the world. There are only about 5,000 native speakers of Nauvhal and for them this is the only feature film record of their tribe in action besides documentary footage. It is absolutely a treasure to see and it makes one think of how many cultures have been lost or forgotten over time. Co-director Dean has stated that while the civilized world sees cultures such as ones depicted in “Tanna” as “primitive” but he sees them as more forward thinking and more respectful of others much more than that of what people see as modern civilization. In today’s modern world there are multiple religious, political, and cultural divides that seem to be worsening yet as the events in “Tanna” show, there are ways of people seeing the positives in progression and changing of traditions to further themselves and be able to pass traditions to the future to see.

“Tanna” was nominated for various awards at festivals worldwide, and also was selected as Australia’s entry for the US Academy Awards, where it was nominated for “Best Foreign Language Film”.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray which can play back on any Blu-ray player worldwide

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec, in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Shot on digital, the film is rich in the colors of nature - the brown soil, the green leaves, the orange magma, etc. The image looks great but it is not perfect as some digital grain is visible causing a bit of flickering, but overall looks sharp and clean. There are quite a few shots that are absolutely stunning with its visuals and the Blu-ray does do them justice.

The runtime of the film is 103:49.

Audio

Nauvhal DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
The original Nauchal language track is presented in lossless 5.1 and sounds great overall. The dialogue almost entirely center based while effects and the gorgeous music score by Antony Partos uses the surround speakers to the fullest. There are no issues of audio errors or dropouts in the track.

There are burned-in English subtitles for the feature. It’s an intrusive practice to have non-removable subtitles, as it blocks people wanting to watch a film with the visuals complete without text covering part of the screen. But considering this is an Australian release and the majority of buyers of the Blu-ray if not all are NOT Nauvhal speakers, it’s not too big of an issue. The subtitles are in a slightly small white font, well timed, and without spelling or grammar issues.

Extras

“The Making of & Additional Clips" (9:49)
A collection of mini-featurettes are here, with behind the scenes footage, the aftermath of the village after the devastating cyclone in 2015, showing the film for the first time to the tribe, their reactions, and also footage of their trip to Venice for the Venice Film Festival.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English and Nauvhal Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles for the Nauvhal portions

New York African Film Festival Q&A 2016 (40:05)
Co-director Bentley Dean, ambassadors from Vanuatu, and Arnie Holland of American distributor Lightyear Entertainment are interviewed on stage following the screening of the film. Dean talks about living in Tanna for a few months and the process of the filmmaking, while the ambassadors talk about the country in general, and Holland discusses why Lightyear picked up the film for American distribution.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Behind the Scenes in Venice" (13:19)
The previous featurette had some clips of the tour of Venice, while this is an extended montage of the promotional tour.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1 and windowboxed 1.33:1 in English/Nauvhal/Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

While the extras are informative, it would have been great to have had a commentary track from the directors on the set which is a missed opportunity. Also the theatrical trailer has not been carried onto the disc, but it has been embedded below. There is a US Blu-ray available from Lightyear Entertainment, which has the mini-featurettes but not the Q&A or the full Venice featurette, making the Australian release the winner in presentation.

Overall

“Tanna” is a landmark film for the cultural heritage of the Yakel tribespeople, and while it is an enjoyable and gorgeous film to watch, it is not one to break new ground in terms of storytelling or cinema. Umbrella Entertainment gives the film good transfer with video and a great audio track with good extras on the filmmaking process and later reception. Very recommended.

The Film: B+ Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: B Overall: B+

 


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