Cinematographing in the Southern Seas

Trawling through The Bioscope (see previous post) one is always coming across fascinating snippets of news stories, any one of which would be well worth pursuing to find out what truth lies behind them. Here’s a snippet from the issue of 29 April 1909, p. 21.


Difficulties of an Expedition to Southern Seas

Mr Leopold Sutto, the representative in Australia of Messrs. Pathé Frères, London and Paris, is on his way back to Paris with a fine batch of negatives, the result of an expedition to the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, and other South Sea Islands. Speaking to an Australian Press representative, Mr. Sotto said:

We only took five pictures in all, and it was terrible work. The public thinks a picture is easily taken. We have to think out every detail; but I venture to say that these five pictures will be found to be of unique interest. In the Solomons we got up an attack of the natives on a house which all of us gallantly defended. I even induced Mr Jack London, the celebrated writer, to assist in the defence.

Mr Sutto described the hardships he and his party underwent in the Solomons. People, he said, who stay at home can have no idea of the difficulties which an expedition such as ours had to encounter. Remember, we had first of all to persuade the Solomon Islanders, who are practically savages, that we did not mean to harm them, and this was no easy task. It was the first time in the history of the cinematograph that such an expedition had been attempted. We were amongst cannibals yet we went further than any white man had been before. We left the memorial erected in memory of the members of the Australiasian expdition, who were massacred some years ago, a long way behind. The worst was that no good road exists, and we had to walk for days in the rivers. The banks were so thickly covered with trees that they were impassable.

Was Jack London associated with the productions, or even filmed? At least one of the films from the expedition survives, PÊCHE À LA DYNAMITE DANS LES ÎLES SALOMON, held in the BFI National Archive. As the title indicates, it shows Solomon Islanders fishing with the less-than-traditional means of dynamite (though it is an European who throws the dynamite).

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