If you’ve seen Marking the Infinite, the Frost Art Museum’s current exhibition of Australian aboriginal women’s art, you might be especially interested in Tanna, one of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Film. Set on the eponymous south pacific island, Tanna tells the story of two warring tribes who must learn to deal with the repercussions when their young adults decide to disobey their orders. If you have yet to see the Frost exhibit or are thinking about attending the shorts screenings and performances that will close it, this would be a great film to whet your appetite.
This small foreign film, which has not even made $100,000 dollars worldwide, could easily have flown under the radar, just like the tiny country of Vanuatu where it takes place. By all accounts Tanna should have not seen the critical success that it has, yet, despite all its shortcomings it has become a critical darling. The film has received recognition at four venues: the Academy Awards, the Australian counterpart to the Academy Awards, the African American Film Critics Association, and the Film Critics Circle of Australia.
The co-directors, Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, used two friendly tribes to play the film’s two enemy tribes, and thereon hangs a tale. When Butler and Dean asked the main tribe who they could persuade to act as the enemy, the leaders decided to volunteer their actual enemy tribe. Before the filmmakers could respond, and without their knowledge, the Yakel went ahead and asked the enemy tribe. It did not go well. After the insulted enemy tribe called the main tribe’s leader a bastard, the worst possible insult that could be given in their culture, the Yakel leaders formally apologized and decided to just go with their friendly neighbors.
The onset crew is just an much of an incredible story as the cast. The on set crew consisted of just Martin Butler and Bentley Dean for the majority of the shoot. Bentley Dean was in charge of operating the camera while Martin Butler was handled the microphone. Even more impressive is that Tanna is Butler and Dean’s first attempt a shooting a fictional narrative film. They made it even harder on themselves by filming natives who have never acted before, and have never even seen movie in their lives.
The success of this film is driven mainly by the fact that Butler and Dean are filmmakers who have primarily worked on documentary features. They applied their knowledge of working with non-fiction and translated it to working with the natives. The natives are especially proud of their oratorical expertise in their culture. They regularly practice oral performances as a way of telling stories within their groups.
If you are interested in seeing the film you can go starting this weekend to the MDC Tower Theater.
Marking the Infinite
If you are interested in the film Tanna then you might like to know that the Frost Art Museum, located right here at FIU, has recently opened up an exhibit on Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Women’s Art. Marking the Infinite opened on January 28th and will continue until May 7th. Feel free to stop in any time! Even more exciting, on April 29th, the Frost Art Museum will be hosting a film screening event for short films by Aboriginal Filmmakers. We’ll keep you posted!
Daniel Valladares is an intern for the FIU Film Studies Program for the Spring 2017 semester. Daniel is seeking a Film Studies Certificate as an English Major.