Getting excited about the Academy Awards? Tanna Farms is, and for a very special reason.
The extraordinary Australian Vanuatu co-production, ‘Tanna’ is up for the Academy’s 2017 Best Foreign Language Film, and we have a very special connection to this film.
It is the first feature film shot entirely in Vanuatu, on Tanna, the island we love best.
The ‘Tanna’ movie is remarkable for a number of reasons. A visual feast, the movie showcases our island. The mysterious rainforest clad mountains, white sand beaches, ash plains, and the mythical atmosphere of Tanna’s sacred, active volcano, Mount Yasur, are the dramatic backdrop to the story of a forbidden love affair, and the pact between old and new ways.
One of our own, Tawata Nangia, features in this ground breaking feature film. Tawata plays a pivotal role as a warrior from a neighbouring tribe whose actions set the movie’s Romeo-and-Juliet style lovers on their doomed path.
The heart and soul of the movie are Tawata’s people, from a remote, traditional ‘kastom’ village called Yakel. Here customs and lifestyles have changed little in centuries. Men wear sheaths and women, grass skirts. Life is traditional. Modern ways, for the most are rejected.
Beautifully told entirely in the Nauvhal language, this heartfelt movie is a collaboration between Australian filmmakers and the Yakel people who acted in it.
Until the filmmakers arrived, the community had never seen a movie let alone acted in one. They were enthusiastic about filming their story based on a traditional Yakel song.
Filming took seven months in conditions that tried the filmmakers, but the outcome is outstanding. Obviously natural talents, the “actors” have now wowed the international film community with their passion, authenticity and magnetism.
Which makes Tawata’s own story all the more astonishing.
“Tawata is a real traditional man who lives by kastom,” says Tanna Farms partner, Seth Kaurua.
“He has never been to school. He has traditional beliefs. He does not have an English name. In Vanuatu, he could be one of the last people to not have an English name because of his real authentic ties to the custom of Tanna.”
Building traditional bamboo tree houses by hand are Tawata’s specialty, and his double story Yakel house is centre stage in the ‘Tanna’ movie, as is another at Tanna Farms.
He has gone from living a traditional Yakel life, albeit it featuring in a world-class Oscar nominated movie, to working as a gardener and carpenter for Tanna Farms in recent years.
His hard work impressed Tanna Farms, and now he is working with Tanna Farms’ sister company, Vinepower, in the New Zealand wine and viticulture industry under the Recognised Seasonal Employment Scheme (RSE).
The RSE scheme is economically empowering for RSE workers and positions with Vinepower are coveted. The money RSE workers earn means their communities have funds for education and health.
“Tawata is in fact a fine example of ‘why’ we created Tanna Farms. He is working hard on his first RSE season in New Zealand, then he will head back home to Vanuatu where he knows he has work with us at Tanna Farms – a year round supply of work has been developed,” explains Tanna Farms partner, Jono Bushell.
“Tawata is a man of very little words. He only speaks his tribal language and doesn’t speak Bislama or English.”
“He now knows a few words of English since being in New Zealand such as “good”, “thank you” and “yes” or “no” but in the main his fellow RSE teammates translate for him while he is based overseas.”
“They tell us he is proud to be part of Vanuatu’s first feature film and even prouder to be part of the Tanna Farms and Vinepower teams,” says Jono.
“All the Tanna RSE workers are cheering the ‘Tanna’ movie on. We all want it to win the Oscar!”
So if you haven’t seen ‘Tanna’ yet – seek it out! Look for the scenes where Tawata attacks the Yakel shaman, and later when he slits a pig’s throat at the tribal reconciliation.
And of course get your popcorn ready – cooked in Tanna Farms coconut oil (The Good Stuff of course!) – and cross your fingers that ‘Tanna’ gets the nod.
Five stars from us!
Picture: Tawata Nangia and Tanna Farms Partner Jono Bushell at a Blenheim Vineyard
Picture: The Tanna Farms treehouse constructed by Tawata.