Moana with Sound to screen in Auckland

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, in partnership with Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust, is bringing the exceptional and historically important 1926 film Moana with Sound to the Māngere Arts Centre, Auckland in May.



Ngā Taonga Chief Executive, Rebecca Elvy says the film was the first ever to be described as a documentary. Although docu-drama is a more apt description.


“It was filmed in the village district of Safune on the Samoan island of Savai’i after Paramount Pictures sent director Robert J. Flaherty to capture the traditional life of the Polynesians.


“So it's an extraordinary opportunity to see again the Samoa of the 1920s."


In 1975 Flaherty’s daughter, Monica, returned to Safune to create a soundtrack for the film and after five years of work, in 1980, Moana with Sound was released.


In 2014 independent film archivist, Bruce Posner completed a 2K digital restoration of the film with the sound digitally restored by Posner and Sami Van Ingen.


“It's this restored film that we are thrilled to be bringing to Auckland," Ms Elvy says.


Ngā Taonga Group Manager for Outreach and Engagement, Jackie Hay says the upcoming screening is a follow-up, “to a very successful Moana with Sound screening and symposium which we held with the Stout Research Centre in Wellington in 2016.”


“We are delighted to now be able offer Aucklanders the opportunity to see and discuss this wonderful film."


Ngā Taonga will be holding two seconday school educational screenings, each with Q&A, on Friday, 4 May at 10.30am and 1pm and then a free public screening at 3pm on Saturday, 5 May followed by a panel discussion.


Additional information on the Film


In the summer of 1924, American filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty moved to the Samoan island of Savai’i with a group that included his wife, three daughters and 16 tonnes of filmmaking gear. The purpose was to capture Samoan life, creating a work of art that producer Paramount Pictures hoped would recreate the success of Nanook of the North, Flaherty’s previous film.


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).


Flaherty expected to make a Samoan version of 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 including food gathering, dancing, kava ceremonies and tattooing.


Included in the 16 tonnes of filmmaking gear was 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. Judging from their reactions Flaherty would decide what to include in the final edit.


About Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision


Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision is New Zealand’s audiovisual archive. We save and cherish the stories, creativity and history of Aotearoa New Zealand in sound and moving images. With strong values of connection, creativity and conservation our purpose is to collect, share and care for New Zealand’s audiovisual taonga.