Given the breathtaking beauty of the Fijian islands, it’s not a surprise that when Hollywood directors brainstorm ideas for where to shoot “paradise sequences,” they invariably shortlist Fiji. The well-known 1979 film, Blue Lagoon, and its 1992 sequel, Return to the Blue Lagoon, were shot respectively in Yasawa and Taveuni. These peaceful, vibrant landscapes provided the settings that made it possible to unfold the themes of youth, innocence and unaltered purity that are so crucial to the films’ success.
In the 1997 sci-fi blockbuster Contact, Jodie Foster’s character is an atheist who is in search of extra-terrestrial life. When she embarks on her journey into space and finally reaches her destination, she – and the viewer – is startled to find not gray skies, blue cheese craters and wide-eyed green aliens, but a startling virgin beach in Fiji and an alien who looks exactly like her father.
Director Bob Zemeckis, who chose Fiji as the setting for the “heaven sequence” in Contact, also believed it would be just the right landscape to show man’s isolation and his age-long love-hate relationship with nature in the 2000 film Cast Away. The Manamucas Islands are featured prominently in this Tom Hanks film.
Hollywood had acknowledged Fiji as a cinematographic dream as early as 1932 with Edward Sutherland’s film Mr. Robinson Crusoe. Burt Lancaster’s character in the 1953 film His Majesty O’Keefe reaches an epiphany that life is about more than just personal fortune while he is on the streets of Suva, Fiji’s capital. Suva is also one of the main locales in The Dove, the 1974 film produced by Gregory Peck.
More modern films shot in Fiji include Tommy Lee Jones’ Savage Islands (1983); the 1993 Guy Pearce film Flynn, a biopic about the film legend Errol Flynn; Coral Reef Adventure (2002); and the Columbia Pictures 2004 film, Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid.
The 1992 feature-length documentary, Reel Paradise, chronicled life on Fiji in a new and unprecedented way. The film depicts the real life adventure of John Pierson, a well-respected indie film producer, who uproots his family from New York City and moves to Taveuni, in search of “the world’s most remote movie theater.” For one year, Pierson and his family ran the 180 Meridian Cinema, showing free movies to Fjian locals. Reel Paradise is a startlingly candid portrayal of an American family abroad as it comes in close contact with the poverty, the struggles and the simplicity of local life in a place that most of the world sees quite simply as a premier tourist destination.
In 2002, Vilsoni Hereniko, who hails from the Fijian village of Mea and is the youngest of eleven children, directed The Land Has Eyes, the first film shot in Fiji with a specifically Fijian theme and an entirely Fijian cast. The film follows the story of Viki, a young, questioning girl from Rotuma who deals with the daily conundrums of adolescence and struggles to define her identity in a place that requires her to develop her skills at doing physical labor rather than her desire to pursue her intellectual or artistic callings.
Viki’s father, Hapati, weaves stories about “The Warrior Woman,” a figure from Rotuman mythology who Viki idealizes as a symbol of courage and perseverance. The director Hereniko, an award-winning playwright and writer, sees The Land Has Eyes in some ways as an expression of the rich storytelling culture of Fiji. The stories Hereniko heard while growing up on the island, Greek mythology and the Bible “nourished [him] with inspiration and hope,” and encouraged him to eventually develop his own storytelling abilities through film, “a medium that has historically not been accessible or available to Pacific Islanders.