Daily Digest: Tanna filmmakers respond to exploitation claims


Comment from Vanuatu Daily Digest

Knee-jerk resentment of someone else’s success, as elsewhere, is sadly a feature of Vanuatu life, so the kind of comment seen below, prompted by the feature film Tanna‘s global success  — and now Oscar nomination, is not unexpected:

Thanks and good tumas blo save’ but my comments is, I think my people have been exploited and although the film is making its name to the top, how are these custom village people, the film actors, the island and the country been compensated for what they have to go through to produce this film including any protocol in this country? Can some one reply to this comments with some evidence?

Exploitation is a serious claim to make, however, so we are taking this opportunity to set the record straight.

Comment made to Vanuatu Daily Digest claiming exploitation by the filmmakers who made Tanna.

Protecting kastom mo kalja is taken very seriously in Vanuatu. The Vanuatu Cultural Centre — as the commentor may already know — has stringent protocols in place to prevent exploitation of communities.

Filmcrews must get prior approval to work in Vanuatu, are carefully monitored while working in the country, and must give a copy of their unedited footage to the Cultural Centre when they leave.

On Tanna, the Tafea Cultural Centre supervises all cultural protocols.

In the film Tanna‘s case, The filmmakers went a step further – they opened a kastom rod (a relationship built on mutual respect and kastom) between themselves, the chiefs and the community. This connection is arguably a major reason why audiences have responded so well to Tanna – the genuine, heartfelt connection between the filmmakers, the cast and the community is apparent.

Vanuatu Daily Digest reached out to the filmmakers for clarification, and Janita Suter, wife of co-director Bentley Dean and location producer for the film had this to say:

“The film was only possible through the auspices of the Vanuatu Culture Centre at a national and local level, who insist and ensure that all people involved in the productions of films in Vanuatu are dealt with fairly and respectfully — including representation and payment during production (both traditional and financial).

Bentley Dean, Marie Wawa and Mungau Dain filming Tanna in a scene on the brink of Mount Yasur volcano. Image: Tanna

“Beyond this The Vanuatu Culture Centre and community of Yakel are in charge of DVD sales for all of Vanuatu, including how the film is distributed and profits. Our aim is that people should continue to benefit from their cultural output.

“We’re regularly in contact with the community, in fact one was recently staying with us! The film continues to give back to the community and the chiefs have been happy with this arrangement right from the beginning. The chiefs maintain there is a strong kastom road between us.

“It is good to clarify this sort of commentary. There were very deliberate safeguards to ensure no ‘exploitation’ occurred and that the correct ‘monetary compensation’ was made for those involved in the film. This was all arranged through the official relevant Vanuatu institutions described above, as is the correct process for filming in Vanuatu, as well as the traditional chiefs of the villages involved.

“If people have queries on this they can speak with the chiefs of Yakel or Jacob Kapere from the Cultural Centre, or the cultural director of Tanna, JJ Nako (if you can find him!).”

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