Friday, June 16, 2023

Monica in the South Seas

Sami van Ingen, Mika Taanila: Monica in the South Seas (FI 2023) starring Monica Flaherty, here as a child in Samoa.

DIRECTOR: Sami van Ingen, Mika Taanila
COUNTRY: Finland
YEAR: 2023
DURATION: 72 min
LANGUAGES: English, Samoan / subtitled in Finnish
CATEGORY: Documentary Films, Finnish Films, New Finnish Films, Puhuttu tai tekstitetty suomeksi
In the presence of Mika Taanila, hosted by Otto Kylmälä.
Viewed at Kitisen Kino, Sodankylä, Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF) 16 June 2023

Ilpo Hirvonen (MSFF 2023): "After Nanook of the North (1922) had become the first documentary film to achieve wide success, Paramount gave director Robert J. Flaherty the freedom to make his next film anywhere. Known as the father of documentary cinema, Flaherty travelled with his family to Samoa where he shot Moana (1926). 50 years later, the director’s daughter Monica Flaherty returned to Samoa, where she had made her first memories as a 3- to 4-year-old. Monica’s goal was to record the sounds of the environment to create a sound version of her father’s silent film."

"Co-directed by Sami van Ingen and Mika Taanila, Monica in the South Seas tells the story behind the birth of this sound version Moana with Sound (1981/2014). At its heart, the film deals with the ambition to reach the past and its sounds, even though the past captured on film is tinted by fiction and western fantasies. The portrayal of the pursuit of lost sound also grows into a broader reflection on the sounds and silences of history, resonating in the film’s polyphonic audio-visual texture." Ilpo Hirvonen

AA: Sami van Ingen and Mika Taanila have created a lovely "making of" about Monica Flaherty's 1980s sonorized version of Moana, the pathbreaking work in the history of the documentary film. Sami van Ingen and Mika Taanila face the complexity of the documentary value of this movie head on. After all, the Flaherty family's mission was to document something that no longer existed, the ancient culture of the Samoan people that survived only in their memory.

Today, questions and issues from the angle of the new colonial history are necessary to discuss. Moana is a part of the Western culture's passion for South Seas exoticism. Personally, I don't find the Flaherty family offenders. The Samoan people welcomed their love for their traditional culture, and in this film we can see that they still welcomed them in the 1980s in a spirit of mutual reverence.

There were also cultural offenses. Embarrassment was caused for Samoan women of appearing topless. Samoans found the anthropological angles of the film-makers absurd. But the filmed records (including a photograph archive) were highly valued, and during Monica's visit they were meticulously identified. And finally, Samoans found Moana "a true film".

"My father never forgot Samoa".

"Searching for the lost paradise" was the Flaherty family's grand project, never more than here. In the South Seas cycle of Hollywood films, White Shadows in the South Seas showed that we found that paradise, only in order to destroy it. F. W. Murnau in Tabu created yet another poetic vision.

Ricky Leacock's footage of Monica Flaherty's return to Samoa provides the greatest treasure of this movie. Monica was able to revisit people she remembered from her early childhood, and we see their reunion here. The "then and now" montages are profoundly moving.

The greatest artistic rewards in the movie are in the Samoan music and the wonderful songs, sung in unforgettable choral performances. I would love to own a soundtrack album.

Monica Flaherty is the protagonist of this "making of". In our period of revisiting film history from the perspective of "women make movies" we must acknowledge the distinction of Frances Flaherty (co-author of Moana) and Monica Flaherty (who created an authentic sound world to Moana).

My earlier blog comments on Moana:
13 Oct 1985
23 Jan 2009 (Richard Leacock in Helsinki)
9 Feb 2009
9 Oct 2010
28 Oct 2010

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