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USA / Samoa (MIFF 1953)

Director: Robert J. Flaherty

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.

See also...


This was Robert Faherty's last major film before his death on July 23, 1951, at the age of 67. It wa a worthy successor to his other great films Nanook of the North, Moana, and Man of Aran. ... More »


"Man of Aran" comes closer than "Nan-ook of the North" or "Moana" to the life we know or our forebears knew, to our racial past. . . . The nameless man of Aran is separated from us only by the ... More »

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