Guest post by David Stringer, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies at the Department of Second Language Studies.
The film series Islands of Resilience opens in IU Cinema’s virtual screening room with the visually stunning Tanna (2015), a tale based on a true story of forbidden love on the lush, hypnotically beautiful island of Tanna, in the Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu. The setting is the village of Yakel and its surrounding environment, with verdant forests, heavenly waterfalls, and a bleak, glowering volcano at the heart of it all.
In a story that is familiar across human cultures, two young people fall in love, only to run afoul of the expectations of their families. Following the killing of the village shaman by a rival community, tribal leaders have agreed upon an arranged marriage to seal peace between enemies. Wawa loves Dain, but she is now a promised bride, and if she runs away, war may rain down on her village. Ineluctably, the lovers elope.
Tanna is part of a new wave of filmmaking by and with indigenous people, highlighting both resilience and change in traditional societies and environments. Such films adopt the viewpoint of the communities themselves, telling the stories they want to tell in their own voices, and forcing international audiences to reframe their perspectives. The cast of Tanna consists of people from Yakel itself, who developed the story with the Australian filmmakers based on events that took place in the village in the 1980s. What stands out about this unique film is not just its award-winning cinematography, as the viewer is immersed in green forest luminosity, volcanic purple haze, and the play of light on textures of skin and petals, but the entrancing performances of the untrained cast. There is an effortless grace in the children’s play, a genuine panic in the worry of the elders, and between the lovers a sense of intimacy that requires no translation.
A version of this article appeared in the August 2021 edition of The Ryder Magazine.
David Stringer is an associate professor of Second Language Studies at the College of Arts and Sciences, and an affiliate of the Integrated Program in the Environment. His research focuses on language acquisition, language attrition, and bilingualism.