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Hollywood’s Love Affair with Tahiti

October 30, 2018 Resort News No Comments Email Email

Tahiti has become a Mecca for moviemakers all over the world seeking idyllic settings, reliable weather, diverse locations, local talent and a destination like no other on the planet.

Over the years Hollywood has featured The Islands of Tahiti in a range of productions, from blockbuster movies such as the 1962 remake of Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlon Brando, to reality televisions series such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians in 2011. And the relationship with Hollywood goes way, way back – further than you may think.


Hollywood’s love affair with Tahiti started back in 1927 when actors Monte Blue and Raquel Torres starred in the American silent film adventure romance White Shadows in the South Seas directed by W.S. Van Dyke. The film was the first of its kind for a Hollywood film company, not only to be shot so remotely but also to include a pre-recorded soundtrack, a groundbreaking step for Hollywood film of the time.


In 1935, the first Hollywood version of Mutiny on the Bounty was filmed, which in the years to follow was remade several times. The most famous remake in 1962 saw a significant boom to the Polynesian economy and not only left a lasting impression on the residents of Tahiti but also for leading actor, Marlon Brando, who, while scouting locations for the film fell in love with the Island of Tetiaroa Atoll.  Brando in the years to follow took out a 99-year lease on Tetiaroa Atoll from the French Polynesia government and built a small village on Motu Onetahi in 1970. The village became a place for Brando’s friends, family and scientists who studied the Atoll’s ecology and archaeology. Over the years, the facilities were upgraded, and opened to the public in 2014 as one of the most exclusive and luxury resorts in the world, The Brando.


The year 2008 saw the filming of the blockbuster Couples Retreat produced by Universal Studios, starring comedy royalty Vince Vaughn, Kristen Bell and Jason Bateman. The film was shot at the picturesque St. Regis Resort Bora Bora, which appeared onscreen as the “Eden” resort. Couples Retreat was one of the highest grossing films for Universal in 2009.


The highly acclaimed 2009 American science fiction film Avatar, which became the highest-grossing film in history has roots (literally) in Tahiti, with director James Cameron said to be inspired by the Banyan trees of Tahiti, depicted in the film as the O, the sacred Tree of Souls (Na’vi name: Vitraya Ramunong). The sacred tree in the film is an enormous, spiritually significant organism worshipped by the residents of Pandora, which is not dissimilar to the actual history of the Banyan tree and the Marquesas’ Islands, Tahiti. In the 19th Century when missionaries first arrived in Tahiti, Tahitians grew their hair long in the belief it gave them strength. The elite members of society would travel to the islands to connect their hair to the banyan roots dangling from the tree then sit on the large stones in a deep sense of being connected to nature, to their source (as seen in Avatar).


Fast-forward to 2016 and the release of the academy award-nominated Walt Disney digital film ‘Moana.’  The inspiration for Moana came from many islands, including Tahiti, Hawaii, Samoa and Fiji. However, the Tahitian islands of Tetiaroa and Bora Bora were two of the most significant reference points for locations in the film’s story.

The Island of Tetiaroa Atoll, home to The Brando, is mostly untouched and was used as a critical reference point for the fictional island of Motunui. Moana’s father frequently tells her that there is no need to travel outside the reef because the island provides for them. The enclosed lagoon of Tetiaroa Atoll is a great reference point for this type of closed ecosystem.

Inspired by the ancient caves found on the island of Tahiti Iti, the film provides a link between Moana and her people’s lost culture, which is represented by a cave filled with a hidden fleet of large canoes. The mystery Moana unlocks is representative of the little-known history of early seafarers who first arrived in Tahiti, and who, due to isolation developed a unique cultural identity of their own, Polynesian, and later sailed to the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean.

As Moana grows up, it’s easy to see how Otemanu is also a reference point for Moana’s fictional island Motunui. Otemanu is one of the South Pacific’s most iconic landmarks located in Bora Bora.

For movie lovers and big and little kids alike, it’s a thrill to take inspiration from Hollywood and see the islands for yourself, visiting the mainland and checking out the fabulous locations of these famous movies.

Feeling inspired to plan your own holiday inspired adventure?

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