Moana with Sound

Young woman weaving. Location: Safune, Savai'i, Samoa. Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision Stills Collection.
"A film of incomparable calm and beauty"
– Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, in partnership with Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust, has announced that it 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 said, "Moana was the first film to ever be described as a documentary, though more accurately it is a docu-drama. 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 said.

Ngā Taonga Group Manager for Outreach and Engagement, Jackie Hay said, "This 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 secondary 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.

Left: Director, Robert Flaherty beside a camera, talks to three of the leading cast members – Tu'ugaita (of the Pa'ia'aua family in Matavai village), Fa’agase (from Lefagaoali’I Village) and young Pe’a (from Faletagaloa Village). Location: Safune, Savai'i, Samoa.

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.

Media enquiries

To arrange interviews or for further information:
Jeanette Bullen, Marketing and Communications Manager, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision
Mob: 021 2732 739 | Ph: 04 896 4833 | Email:

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