What would you do if you were to spend over half a year in another country in a town where the people don’t speak your language? Where you would spend those months learning their customs and their stories about their past? Where you would go with them to hunt and find food, all the while shooting a movie? And that movie isn’t a documentary, but rather a film starring the people you just met on that island where they play their ancestors?
In an almost Tambien La Lluvia style, Australian filmmaker Bentley Dean traveled to Yakel, a town in Vanuatu where he spent seven months with natives in the village. Yakel, one of the world’s last tribal societies, is located near an active volcano in a rain forest high up in the mountains. The locals hunt and find their food and make their own clothes, all the while living without electricity, plumbing, and more.
Coming out in New York on September 16, in LA and San Francisco on September 23, and later on home release by Spring 2017, the film is Australia’s official Foreign Language Film submission for the 2017 Academy Awards. It has already garnered Dean the Best Director award from the Directors Guild of Australia and the Best Cinematography Award at the Venice Film Festival – where it also won the Audience Award.
The village has abided to its Kastom, its system of culture and beliefs; rejecting and resisting Christian and colonial influences for hundreds of years. The “actors” in the film are local inhabitants with no indoor plumbing or electricity, nor have they had formal education.
The film, completely in their native language of Nauvhal, follows the story of two lovers a la Romeo and Juliet whose love had changed the tribe’s Kastom on the island. Speaking on film, Dean and co-director Martin Butler stated, “Working so closely with the people of Yakel has been one of the most rewarding experiences of our creative lives. Together we have opened a rare window into a rapidly vanishing world full of hope and dynamism. We are so proud to bring their story to the world.”
But just how did the two directors start shooting and how did they communicate with the natives? With a translator, JJ Nako, the two filmed the natives’ lives almost like a documentary, where the villagers were not acting but rather living their normal routine. The natives’ roles in their society were what they played on screen: the chief played the chief, the medicine man played the medicine man, and so on. It took six months to finish shooting and the results are astounding. Be sure to watch the trailer below for a surreal look into another culture.