The vast diversity of tropical landscapes and the surreal beauty of The Islands of Tahiti have been inspiring major directors and producers since the birth of the film industry. Stories that take place in The Islands of Tahiti are inspired by literary works of art such as the Mutiny on the Bounty as well as epic romances such as Love Affair and bio pics such as Gauguin.
Here are a few of the most famous films shot in The Islands of Tahiti. If film buffs are interested, they can seek out filming locations during their trip to Tahiti.
- A Ballad of the South Seas (1912) was filmed in Papara by the brother of Georges Méliès. Unfortunately copies this film can no longer be found.
- White Shadows in the South Seas (1927), a co-venture in which Robert Flaherty played a role, was shot in the Marquesas. Considered to be a crowning achievement in exotic film, this film, co-directed by W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke, Jr. (who also directed Trader Horn, Eskimo, the first Tarzan films, San Francisco and a host of other films), is a very poetic silent film. Admired at the time by the Surrealists, he spoke out against the colonization of the islands of Polynesia, considered a paradise lost.
- Tapu / Tabu / A story of the South Seas (1929), a silent film by the famous German film director, F. W. Murnau, and based on a story by Robert Flaherty dealing with the daily lives of the islanders, was filmed in Bora Bora. A few scenes showing naked swimmers were censored in the United States and in Finland. The film shoot, which lasted eighteen months, was turbulent and shrouded by legend (because of drownings, poisonings, and mysterious explosions caused by magic spells). Murnau and his team were said to have violated several local taboos by setting up their headquarters in an old burial ground and by filming in sacred reefs. To crown it all, Murnau died in a car accident eight days before the film premiered in New York.
- Last of the Pagans (1935), was directed by Richard Thorpe, a former actor turned director, based on the Melville novel, Typee, and released by Metro Goldwyn Meyer. The film tells the story of two raids aiming to capture humans: the first raid is carried out by a clan from a neighboring island to take wives by force so they can replenish their “stock” and the second is carried out by whites seeking laborers for phosphate mines. The dialogue is in Tahitian with subtitles.
- Mutiny on the Bounty. A first Hollywood version, filmed in 1935, was directed by Frank Lloyd and starred Clark Gable. It played fast and loose with the facts. The better-known 1962 film, shot in 1960/1961 with more than 2,000 actors, 8,000 extras and a budget of 27 million US dollars, was a boon to the Polynesian economy. After the shoot, Marlon Brando bought Tetiaroa Atoll. In 1984 a scaled-down version, filmed in Moorea, was released starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins and directed by Roger Donaldson.
- Tahiti ou la Joie de Vivre (1957) was a comedy directed by Bernard Borderie starring Georges de Caunes. A reporter asks to be sent to Tahiti to find heaven on earth.
- The Restless and the Damned (1961), directed by Yves Allégret. The film tells the story of the vicissitudes of a couple who moves to Polynesia to seek their fortune in phosphate mining.
- Tiara Tahiti (1962)is a British film directed by Ted Kotcheff. An adventurer living in Tahiti unexpectedly runs into his former commanding officer who had him court-martialed. To get even, he decides to make life tough for his adversary, who now works in the tourism business.
- Tendre Voyou (1966), directed by Jean Becker starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, relates the escapades of a gigolo.
- Hurricane (1979), inspired by the novel by James Norman Hall and Charles Nordoff, was filmed in Bora Bora and directed by Dino de Laurentis. It is a remake of the 1937 film of the same name directed by John Ford.
- Le Bourreau des Cœur (1983), directed by Christian Gion, was shot on Tetiaroa and stars Aldo Maccione. The film was huge success at the box office in France (more than 1.6 million tickets were sold).
- Les Faussaires (1994), based on a novel by Romain Gary, La Tête Coupable, was directed by Frédéric Blum. The protagonist is an author who has come to Tahiti to write a biography on Paul Gauguin.
- Love Affair (1994), released by Gaumont, is a love story and a remake of the 1939 film of the same name. It was shot in Tahiti and starred Katharine Hepburn in her last appearance in a film.
- Les Perles du Pacifique (1999) is a 13-episode television series produced by Gaumont about life on a pearl farm.
- Le Prince du Pacifique, directed by Alain Corneau and shot in Huahine in 2000, stars Thierry Lhermitte and Patrick Timsit.
- South Pacific (2001), a musical comedy directed by Richard Pierce, stars Harry Connick Jr. and Glenn Close.
- Couples Retreat was released by Universal Studios and shot in Bora Bora in October 2008. With only 7 million dollars invested in the film locally, it was the highest grossing film for Universal that year. Nearly fifty journalists were invited to travel to the filming location by the producers.
- L’ordre et la Morale directed by Matthieu Kassowitz, was shot in 2010 on Anaa, a small island in the Tuamotus selected as the setting for events in Ouvea (New Caledonia). Events depicted as taking place in Noumea were filmed in Pape’ete.
Other TV shows and documentaries
Every year the islands are selected as the location for a number of documentaries, TV reality shows, cooking shows and advertising for major international brands. Surfing the waves in Teahupoʻo as well as in a few secret spots in the more distant archipelagos is a favorite subject for film. The same can be said of local wildlife such as sharks and whales (which visit the waters from July to November). The US TV series, Survivor, shot in 2002 in the Marquesas (Nuku Hiva), helped publicize the archipelago in North America.
The Archival and Audiovisual Heritage Service (SPAA) maintains the unique and well-known collection of audiovisual works called “Cinematamua” from The Islands of Tahiti. Several videos are available at http://www.archives.pf/cinematamua/
For the last 10 years, the Oceania International Documentary Film Festival (FIFO) has been screening the best documentaries on the region. FIFO 2014 will take place from 3 to 6 February at the Maison de la Culture. www.fifo-tahiti.com