Moana begins quietly, showing the life of the natives in their (to us) exotic environment. By implication the common humanity of ourselves and these remote people is established. In this section the story of the youthful life of the young native who is the film “hero” begins. The next section shows the coming to manhood of the hero. In the island world where the trials and pains of most primitive life are mercifully absent, pain has to be invented as a trial of manhood, as if sacrifice were necessary to maintain the fibre of the race. The initiation has as its climax the ordeal of ceremonial tattooing. This culmination of childhood and youth is also the climax of the film. It is followed by its natural epilogue, the subsequent marriage of the man, and the film closes on a note of peace the man dancing quietly with his betrothed.
Moana is the finest film made by Robert J. Flaherty, founder of the documentary film movement. It is the least “dated” of the classical documentary films and seems most likely to endure the test of time.
The tremendous success of Flaberty’s first film; Nanook of the North, prompted Famous-Players-Lasky (now Paramount Films) to commission Flaherty to make a film of the South Seas.
With his family he moved to a village on Savaii, a remote island of the Samoan group. For six months they lived and talked with the natives. When they felt they understood the essence of native life, Flaherty and his wife began to plan the outline of the film.
Freedom is essential to Flaherty’s method. Without script, and with only a rough plan, he photographs everything that interests him and seems characteristic of his subject. Everything is developed, printed, and screened on the spot. Then, as the material falls into shape, he concentrates on staging the scenes and details necessary for a developing continuity.
But this is not the secret of the greatness of the film. This lies rather in Flaherty’s great love, respect, and sympathy for his subject. His camera uncannily anticipates action and gesture, changing thoughts and emotions are captured to provide a record of life in the round. —Melbourne International Film Festival
Robert Joseph Flaherty (16 February 1884, Iron Mountain, Michigan – 23 July 1951, Dummerston, Vermont) was an American filmmaker who directed and produced the first commercially successful feature length documentary film, Nanook of the North (1922), made his reputation, and nothing in his later life equalled its success, although he continued the development of this new genre of docufiction, eg. with Moana (1926), set in the South Seas.
He is a progenitor of ethnographic film. Jean Rouch and John Collier Jr. would practice and theorize the genre as visual anthropology, a subfield of anthropology, in the 1960s.
Flaherty was married to writer Frances H. Flaherty from 1914 until his death in 1951. Frances worked on several of her husband’s films, and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Story for Louisiana Story (1948).
Flaherty was one of seven children born to prospector Robert Henry Flaherty (an Irish Protestant) and Susan Klockner (a German Roman… read more