21 Jan 2019

Vanuatu actor's death a 'preventable tragedy'

9:22 am on 21 January 2019

The death of Vanuatu actor Mungau Dain, the star of 2017 film Tanna, was a preventable tragedy, the film's co-director says.

Mungau Dain

Mungau Dain Photo: Facebook / Tanna Movie

Mr Dain died earlier this month from an infection after cutting his leg in Port Vila on New Year's Eve.

The co-director, Bentley Dean, said he would attend Mr Mungau's end of mourning ceremony this week on Tanna, where he hoped to discuss his cause of death.

"As far as we can tell he cut his leg or foot on New Year's Eve. It was an accident, certainly nothing life threatening and that's become infected," Mr Dean said.

"Over the course of a few days septic shock set in and it seems like what he's died from is sepsis," he said.

"By the time he got to the hospital he was unconscious and unfortunately the doctors couldn't do anything for him."

Mr Mungau is reported to have died on 5 January aged in his late twenties.

"You'd have to say it probably wouldn't have happened if he had have got earlier medical attention," Mr Dean said.

"That's one of the things that when we go back, we just want to talk about ways in which you can prevent this sort of tragedy from happening again because it is preventable."

Bentley Dean and Mungau Dain

Bentley Dean and Mungau Dain Photo: Facebook / Tanna Movie

The two men had remained friends since shooting the Oscar nominated movie, a story of forbidden love set in traditional ni-Vanuatu society on the volcanic island of Tanna.

Mr Mungau, who had never acted before, was apprehensive about taking the role.

"It wasn't a case of me casting him it was the community casting him," Mr Dean explained.

"We all thought he'd be great for the role because he had an energy to him and he was definitely the best looking guy in town.

"The problem was that he didn't want to do it. He knew the story, he knew that he would have to play a love interest and he had a wife and he was quite shy.

"It actually took the chiefs to be a bit stern with him and say 'you have to do this for the tribe', and as soon as he got that word he took it up with interest and professionalism and he really worked hard."

The cast of novice actors from the village of Yakel quickly learned what was required of them on screen, while Mr Mungau took the opportunity to develop his artistic ability.

"He was really thinking about what he needed to do," said Mr Dean. "He was really interested in the process and getting that sense of realism. He took himself to some emotional places where the film needed to go."

"He kept on improving and improving and by the end he could play any role that he chose. If he did decide to go into the movie business he'd have had no problem"

But rather than pursuing a career on the silver screen, Mr Maunga stuck with his community and its commitment to preserving a traditional way of life.

Nominees for Best Foreign Language Film  Tanna arrive on the red carpet for the 89th Oscars.

Nominees for Best Foreign Language Film Tanna arrive on the red carpet for the 89th Oscars. Photo: AFP

"They're very much aware of the outside world, very connected and very savvy. It's just that they chose to keep important parts of their culture strong," Mr Dean explained.

"It's actually incredibly admirable. They've realised that they're onto a good thing and that's one of the reasons why they wanted to make the film is that they felt they had something to offer the rest of the world."

The co-director said Mr Mungau would be remembered for demonstrating that a meaningful life was possible outside of the developed world.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs