Join us for a special screening of Moana with Sound, a “living panorama” of everyday life in Samoa in 1926. Originally created as a silent film, the director's daughter created a sound version of this historical gem in 1980 and then, in 2014, the film was fully restored.
Following the screening a panel discussion will reflect on the film, the representation of Pasifika and on film making today.
The History of Moana with Sound:
Moana was filmed by husband and wife team Robert and Frances Flaherty during 1923 and 1924 on Savai’i, and is the first feature-length film to be noted as having “documentary value.” In 1975 Monica Flaherty returned to Savai’i to create a soundtrack for her parents’ silent film. Sami Van Ingen and Bruce Posner digitally restored the sound version of the film in 2014.
Flaherty was expecting to make a Samoan version of his box office success Nanook of the North. To that end he was looking for action stories of sea monsters. He was offered giant stingrays (according to Monica Flaherty), but he rejected that and opted instead to create a “living panorama,” to film everyday life. At the film’s center is Moana, the son of a tribal chief, who journeys towards manhood as he spends a week being tattooed. The film captures the villagers as they fish, hunt, make clothes, feast and dance.
The Flahertys arrived in Samoa with their three young children and 16 tons of film making gear including film stock and processing equipment to develop the film as it was shot. Flaherty trained two local, young men to handle the chemicals and to process and develop the film negative, this work was carried out in caves close to the village of Safune where the film was shot. Flaherty would screen the “rushes” to the villagers and, judging from their reactions, would decide what to include in the final edit.
“In his review for the New York Sun in 1926, critic John Grierson translated the French word ‘documentaire’ to ‘documentary,’ effectively making Moana the first movie to receive that label. Writing for the New York Times, Mordaunt Hall congratulated Flaherty, who according to the reviewer deserved praise “for having kept [Moana] free from sham.” In hindsight, these two statements have turned out to be sweetly ironic, for Moana – while not a sham – would definitely face trouble passing for a documentary today.” — Laya Maheshwari, 2014
Reviewing the 2014 restoration Alan Scherstuhl wrote in the Village Voice, “Moana, a film of incomparable calm and beauty, is not a documentary in the strict sense, but it remains a document of great historical truth: Here is how Flaherty and the Western world preferred to imagine that tribal cultures lived, out of time and childlike, finding joy and meaning in toil and ceremony, gathering clams bare-breasted or shinnying up the great curved trunk of a palm tree so tall that Flaherty’s camera can’t capture it all in one shot. How much is an accurate depiction of these lives? How much is profitable leering and infantilizing?"