Robert Flaherty
Samoa 1926 | 66 Min. | 16 mm

Silent movie with musi­cal accom­pa­ni­ment by Günter A. Buchwald

In the wake of the raging suc­cess of his first fea­ture-length docu­d­ra­ma NANOOK OF THE NORTH, Para­mount Pic­tures com­mis­sioned R. J. Fla­her­ty to make a sim­i­lar record of Samoan life. Also unfa­mil­iar with the South Seas Fla­her­ty accept­ed and even­tu­al­ly pro­duced MOANA: A ROMANCE OF THE GOLDEN AGE. The public was not impressed, but this was the film for which the word “doc­u­men­tary” was coined by British critic John Grierson. 

When making MOANA, Robert J. Fla­her­ty lived for two years among the south Seas islanders, which he described as the great­est expe­ri­ence of his career. He and his family set­tled on the Samoan island of Savaii, where he had found a large cave with a spring of cold water in which he could devel­op his neg­a­tives. Fla­her­ty looked for the ele­ments of con­flict and strug­gle which his pre­vi­ous film NANOOK OF THE NORTH had taught him were essen­tial to the drama­ti­za­tion of real life. This search was long and fruit­less for Savaii afford­ed no filmable fight for food and shel­ter. The Fla­her­tys decid­ed that their pic­ture must record “Fa’a Samoa”, the com­plex weave of custom, cer­e­mo­ny and tabu which formed the social tex­ture of Samoan life. In thus adher­ing to the truth of the locale, Fla­her­ty pre­sent­ed a dra­mat­ic story of how the Samoans, free from the painful strug­gle with nature, inflict­ed pain to demon­strate their man­hood. The climax of MOANA is the appli­ca­tion of the tra­di­tion­al knee-to-navel tatoo, a rite if pas­sage from boy­hood to adulthood. 

In MOANA Hol­ly­wood met Anthro­pol­o­gy and cre­at­ed cin­e­mato­graph­ic ref­er­ence for the future genre of South Seas films.