Lightyear Entertainment dist. by eOne
Lightyear Entertainment dist. by eOne

Nine features will advance to the next round of voting in the Foreign Language Film category for the 89th Academy Awards. Eighty-five films had originally been considered in the category.

Of note, among the nine shortlisted is “Tanna” – a story about star-crossed lovers in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, co-directed by Australian filmmakers Bentley Dean and Martin Butler (their narrative feature debut) – which is representing Australia in the 2017 Foreign Language Film Oscar race.

The film beautifully depicts the true story of how two of the last remaining indigenous tribes in the Republic incorporate love into their ancient tradition of arranged marriage. “Tanna,” the first feature film shot entirely in Vanuatu, premiered at the Venice Film Festival last fall, where it won the Audience Award in the International Critics Week sidebar as well as the Best Cinematography prize.

The synopsis reads: “Tanna” is set in the South Pacific where Wawa, a young girl from one of the last traditional tribes, falls in love with her chief’s grandson, Dain. When an inter-tribal war escalates, Wawa is unknowingly betrothed as part of a peace deal. The young lovers run away, but are pursued by enemy warriors intent on killing them. They must choose between their hearts and the future of the tribe.

Although the Romeo and Juliet-esque story has been done before, what distinguishes Tanna is the setting—in Yakel village, near a live volcano—the cinematography—lush, picturesque forests and shooting lava—and the characters—a cast of non-actors, from Yakel, some of whom play the same roles in the film as they do in life.

The documentary style of filming also serves to capture and preserve Yakel culture, called Kastom, on film, with breathtaking imagery. All this the filmmakers achieved with a two-person crew—Dean on camera and Butler on sound.

Given the nation’s strategic role in WWII, as the largest U.S. army supply base in the South Pacific, the rejection of Western values and lifestyles is a decidedly political choice. (At the end of the war, American troops bulldozed hospitals and supply centers over cliffs rather than leave them behind for the Vanuatans.)

Vanuatu was the only country in the region to support independence and political freedom for East Timor, even when faced with threats of cessation of foreign aid. Its support of other movements, such as Namibian independence and South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle, has largely been ascribed to a strong indigenous culture.

The film was acquired by Lightyear Entertainment and released in the USA in September, for a very limited run.

A trailer for the film is at the bottom of this post.

The full list of nine films that will advance to the next round of voting in the Foreign Language Film category for the 89th Academy Awards follow below in alphabetical order by country:

Australia, “Tanna,” Bentley Dean, Martin Butler, directors;

Canada, “It’s Only the End of the World,” Xavier Dolan, director;

Denmark, “Land of Mine,” Martin Zandvliet, director;

Germany, “Toni Erdmann,” Maren Ade, director;

Iran, “The Salesman,” Asghar Farhadi, director;

Norway, “The King’s Choice,” Erik Poppe, director;

Russia, “Paradise,” Andrei Konchalovsky, director;

Sweden, “A Man Called Ove,” Hannes Holm, director;

Switzerland, “My Life as a Zucchini,” Claude Barras, director.

Foreign Language Film nominations for 2016 are determined in two phases.

The Phase I committee, consisting of several hundred Los Angeles-based Academy members, screened the original submissions in the category between mid-October and December 12. The group’s top six choices, augmented by three additional selections voted by the Academy’s Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee, constitute the shortlist.

The shortlist will be winnowed down to the category’s five nominees by specially invited committees in New York, Los Angeles and London. They will spend Friday, January 13, through Sunday, January 15, viewing three films each day and then casting their ballots.

The competitive Foreign Language Film category was introduced in 1956 for the 29th Academy Awards.

Nominations for the 89th Oscars will be announced on Tuesday, January 24, 2017.

The 89th Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live on the ABC Television Network at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. The Oscars also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

Below is the trailer for “Tanna.”