Concept: Films


Moving picture films were shown in the Solomon Islands onwards from the 1910s and several early films were made in the islands. Americans Martin and Osa Johnson travelled to the Pacific in 1917, filming on Tulagi, Malaita, Savo, Makira, Ontong Java and in the Western Solomons with a hand-cranked moving-film camera. (Johnson 1945; Ramage 2011) Their footage includes shell valuable manufacture and life on Malaita's artificial islands, war canoes in the Western Solomons, Eastern Solomons canoe houses, the Ontong Java graveyard, and scenes of police drilling at Tulagi. From the rough footage they produced four Solomons-based motion pictures: Among the
Cannibals of the South Seas (1918), Recruiting in the Solomons (1920), Headhunters of the South Seas (1922) and Tulagi and the Solomons (1943). ( [accessed 27 Aug. 2011]; Stella Ramage, personal communication, 16 July 2012)

There was crossover in footage of several films made at about this time: Black Shadows (1923), The Transformed Isle (1924), Gow the Headhunter (1928) and Gow the Killer (1931). They all involved Edward A. Salisbury, a millionaire explorer and writer. He was accompanied to the Solomons by Merian C. Cooper (who directed King Kong in 1933) and cinematographer Thomas Middleton. The footage seems to have come from Choiseul and Vella Lavella, and most of it relates to a re-enactment of a raid from New Georgia to Savo, though it was probably all filmed on Vella Lavella. The party reached the Solomons in early 1921 onboard a large motorised yacht, the Wisdom II. They filmed extensively at Vella Lavella with the assistance of Methodist missionary Rev. Reginald Nicholson, who arranged to control the Australian and New Zealand rights to the film. After a trip to the United States in 1922, Nicholson obtained the 10,000 feet (3,948 metres) of raw footage taken on Vella Lavella, which had been sold several times. He and his wife returned to Melbourne and over the next two years spliced and edited The Transformed Isle, about five thousand feet (1,524 metres) of film on five reels that runs for sixty-three minutes. The film was used extensively for Methodist Mission publicity and fund-raising in Australia and New Zealand. Salisbury had already used some of the footage in Black Shadows and other sections appear in his other movies. Salisbury also filmed on Choiseul as part of the same expedition. (Davidson 2006; Martin Hadlow interview with Ian Nicholson, 17 July 2007; Ramage 2011; Roberts 2004)

The Anglicans also made two films in the 1920s. In late 1921, in a contract with the Melanesian Mission in New Zealand, George H. Tarr took 10,000 feet of film of Melanesian Mission activities and produced a film entitled Ten
Thousand Miles with the S.Y. Southern Cross, which was shown in Auckland on 19-21 April 1922, with Bishop J. M. Stewart (q.v.) speaking at the first screening. Tarr and Hector McQuarrie then toured New Zealand with the film. The two of them got along poorly, and though the contract stipulated that the proceeds were to be split between Tarr and the Melanesian Mission, ownership of the film became an issue. Both Tarr and McQuarrie made financial claims against the Melanesian Mission in New Zealand. The Melanesian Mission rejected McQuarrie's claims and sold three thousand feet (914 metres) of the film to the New Zealand Anglican Board of Missions; from those proceeds, they met some of Tarr's claims. They also sent a copy of the film to the Melanesian Mission in England. They were confused about the ownership, complained about the poor quality, and rejected it. There appears to be sixteen minutes of this film in the New Zealand Film Archive. The English Southern Cross Log reports that another film was made in about 1926 entitled Melanesia: Isles of Enchantment in the South Pacific. It circulated widely in England when the Melanesian Mission English Committee Travelling Secretary and others went out to parishes on deputation work. (Terry Brown, personal communication, 15 July 2012; and Stella Ramage, 16 July 2012; Douglas 2004, 40; Johnson 1945)

The Americans forces also had movie cameras with them during the Second World War and took the first colour film in the Solomon Islands. In 1947, the Anglicans made Southern Cross, a silent film, with a sound track added circa 1952. Other Anglican films were Martyr's Harvest (filmed around the consecration of Bishop A. T. Hill (q.v.) in 1954), Brown Fishers of Melanesia (filmed around the arrival of Edgar Wood as Dean of Honiara in 1961), Partners in the Pacific (1963, filmed around the consecration of Bishops Leonard Alafurai (q.v.) and Dudley Tuti (q.v.)) and Spearhead (1964, about Ini Kopuria (q.v.) and the Melanesian Brotherhood (q.v.), set mainly on Guadalcanal). (personal communications from Terry Brown, 12 July 2012; and Stella Ramage 16 July 2012)

The first colour feature documentary film about the Solomon Islands, In the Wake of Mendana, was completed in 1956 by Sydney filmmaker N. K. Wallis. It consisted of 300 metres of 16-millimetre film. Wallis charged nothing for his services and a Colonial Development and Welfare Grant paid the production costs. (AR 1955-1956, 7; NS July 1956)

Film crews visited the Solomons regularly during the 1960s. O. M. Emery arrived with a Melanesian Board of Missions and an Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) team in February 1966 and filmed the Second World War battlefields on Guadalcanal, particularly around Honiara. One segment was included in the ABC 7:00 p.m. news, and another documentary on the battlefield was screened a week later. A programme entitled 'Guadalcanal, Then and Now' screened on American television in April 1966. (NS 7 Feb. 1966, 21 Feb. 1966, 21 Apr. 1966) Another film touring America in 1966 was Return to the Pacific by Thayer Soule from New York, who had landed with the Marines on Guadalcanal in August 1942 and had been in charge of all photography for the first Marine Division. He revisited the Protectorate in 1965 and created a composite of wartime and 1965 footage. It included segments on Honiara, Henderson Airfield, former Marine battle positions and wrecked shipping. (NS 21 May 1966) In June and July 1967, a German film crew arrived led by Wolf-Dietrich Seelman from Monitor Film and Fernsehproduktion. They produced Stopover in the Solomons, a travel film with links to the war in the Solomons. (NS 21 Apr. 1967, 15 Apr. 1968) In August 1968, Dr William Dawbin, a biologist from the University of Sydney, made his third visit to Bita'ama, Malaita to study porpoise hunting, and on this trip was accompanied by a film crew. The resulting film was screened on ABC television. In October 1968, a two-man Anglican Church film team visited the Protectorate to make two films. The first was a twenty-five-minute colour documentary based on the emergence of indigenous leadership; the second was a ten-minute black and white film about the problems and needs of the Anglican Church in the Solomons. Both films were made by Keith Laxton of the Pilgrim Films Company. The colour film included scenes from St. Mary's School (q.v.) at Maravovo, the Melanesian Brotherhood at Tambalia, Honiara, and villages on Malaita. (NS 15 Oct. 1968)

In 1969, ABC filmed an episode of its current affairs programme Four Corners in Honiara. They concentrated on war relics and economic development, and included interviews with the High Commissioner Sir Michael Gass and others, and footage taken at the Guadalcanal Club. (NS 15 June 1969) In 1970, a Japanese television crew shot 2,743 metres of film of a custom wedding ceremony on Malaita. That same year an Australia crew directed by Keith Laxton of Sydney-based Pilgrim Films filmed a fifteen-minute version of The Man, a play by Francis Bugotu (q.v.) and Tony Hughes, which highlighted the effects of the introduction of Western culture in Melanesia. (NS 30 Sept. 1970, 15 Oct. 1970) In October 1972, a television film crew from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation filmed at the two-day Moro Movement Festival at Makaruka village on the Guadalcanal Weathercoast, producing a fifty-minute film called Islands of Solomon. (NS 31 Oct. 1972) The BBC made the film Palm and Steeple in the 1970s.

Other footage never made its way back to the Solomons. In 1971, Solomon Mamaloni was visiting Britain and was filmed by the BBC while taking part in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association discussion on parliamentary party systems. Later, he was invited to take part in a late-night BBC television programme called Westminster on the role of Parliamentary Whips. (NS 30 May 1971)

Amateur films were made during the 1970s of subjects such as the ritual opening of a skull-house, a Solomon Islands dance troupe performing at the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973, and the opening of a new aofa canoe house on Santa Ana Island in 1975. The 1974 Royal Tour brought with it film crews from Britain, Australia and Europe. Later in the year, David Attenborough and Michael Macintyre made a BBC film in the Solomons as part of The Tribal Eye series on indigenous art. As well, a Hollywood crew spent time in Honiara filming for a television series, Japanese film crews visited and the ABC made a film for its Weekend Magazine programme. In 1975 Festival of the Skulls was made on Laulasi Island, Malaita, and also Santa Ana, both by Ken Ward, President of the Honiara Film Society. (SND 18 Apr. 1975) At about the same time, Daniel de Coppet and David Kausimae made 'Are'are Maasina, in 16 millimetre colour film, spoken in 'Are'are with French subtitles. These films were shown widely around the Solomon Islands.

During the 1970s, the British Central Office of Information in London supplied 16 millimetre versions of British News to the Solomons. Other films were borrowed from the London Central Office of Information and from Film Australia to supplement the Information and Broadcasting Service's library of around forty documentaries. There were two cinemas (q.v.) in Honiara, and one each in Gizo and Auki. Also in the 1970s there was an active film society in Honiara with 225 members, which screened films once each fortnight. (AR 1974, 113) The independence celebrations in 1978 were the subject of several films.

Related Concepts

Published resources


  • Johnson, Osa, Bride in the Solomons, George G. Harrap and Company, London, 1945. Details

Conference Papers

  • Ramage, S., 'Rev. Nicholson goes to Hollywood', in Art Association of Australia and New Zealand 2011 Annual Conference, Wellington, New Zealand, 2011. Details


  • Solomons News Drum, 1974-1982. Details
  • British Solomon Islands Protectorate (ed.), British Solomon Islands Protectorate News Sheet (NS), 1955-1975. Details

Journal Articles

  • Davidson, Allan K., 'New Zealand Methodists and "Missionary Propaganda" in the 1920s', Wesley Historical Society (New Zealand) Journal, vol. Supplement, 2006, pp. 1-12. Details
  • Douglas, Ngaire, 'Towards a History of Tourism in Solomon Islands', Journal of Pacific Studies, vol. 26, no. 1-3, 2004, pp. 29-49. Details


  • British Solomon Islands Protectorate, British Solomon Islands Protectorate Annual Reports (AR), 1896-1973. Details

Online Resources