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Finding Fiji onscreen

Around the World in 80 More Movies finds locations and fun in Fiji

Adrift, 2018 with Shailene Woodley facing oceanic fears. The real-life inspirational incident occurred near Tahiti, but Director Baltasar Kormakur felt the Fiji’s archipelago looked close enough, plus provided good access to New Zealand and its film-friendly locations. Star Shailene Woodley shows no fear diving on and off a boat in rugged seas; like the rest of the crew she battled open-water threats including seasickness and sunburn to create believable intensity of a real experience no one wants to undergo. Fiji locations include the capital Suva on Viti Levu, Rakaraki and Pacific Harbor, which offers “dive with the shark” excursions—a pursuit enjoyed by Adrift’s director. I asked about “snorkel with shark” opportunities when our group hired a little boat that took us way off shore, but tour operator Ben refused, noting that floating on top of the water made me look like a vulnerable food source. He took us to an open-water, non-shark infested area near the Mamanucas Island Group, where sergeant-major fish nibbled and poked at my skin and a bunch of jelly fish stung me. But I felt no fear…(well, perhaps a little, justified years later when I watched the Playing with Sharks documentary about Valerie Taylor. It includes her Fiji dive with bull sharks, considered by some as more lethal than great whites). The Blue Lagoon, 1949 with a cast away boy and girl growing up by themselves on an isolated island paradise. A popular book led to three movie adaptations: a 1923 silent version and two full-color talkies. Following author Henry De Vere Stacpoole’s 1908 novel with its theme exploring innocence and natural love, 1949’s film captures the tone using less salaciousness than the 1980 interpretation. Respectable—a director who worked with Alfred Hitchcock, an Oscar-winning cinematographer and a capable actress in Jean Simmons—the movie ambles along languidly and made it into Britain’s top ten box office hits that year. Director Frank Launder took his team to Fiji’s Yasawa Islands, which includes Turtle Island, Nanuya Leilai and Sawa-i-Lau Caves. Decades later, Director Randall Kleiser picked the same locations for his take starring a teenage Brooke Shields, sporting tape and glue to make sure her long hair never strayed from any nipple so she looked topless without breaking rules. Tourists get to the sites by boat or plane from Fiji’s major island, Viti Levu, with luxury accommodations boasting The Blue Lagoon connection. Fans of The Return to Blue Lagoon (uh, are there any?) see the movie’s sites on Taveuni Island’s Lavena Coastal Walk. With classic tropical views, the path leads to the magnificent Wainibanu Waterfall where stars Milla Jovovich and Brian Krausefrolic. Cast Away, 2000 with the volleyball Wilson keeping Tom Hanks company on an isolated South Pacific island. I knew about Cast Away plans a couple of years before its release when a representative of Director Robert Zemeckis called me at the Nevada Film Office to find out about desolate-looking crossroads in the state. Thanks for thinking of us Bob…even though you went someplace else. Despite all my pro-Nevada leanings, I set hold no grudge because the movie’s opening and closing shots at Route 1268 and 48 in Canadian, Texas look perfect. A great box office track record from Forrest Gump meant no restraint for other locations, either. Cast Away pilgrims must trek to Tennessee and the Soviet Union to find Fed-X hubs portrayed in the story. Most importantly though, fans go to Fiji. A crash near the Cook Islands makes Fiji an unlikely actual location, but film makers found Monuriki Island off the Mamanucas Group near Nadi provided an ideal blend of entrancing beauty and intimidating ruggedness for their heart-grabbing story about a time-obsessed Federal Express executive forced to learn patience and other survival skills. Star Hanks earned a well-deserved best actor Oscar nomination, carrying much of the action without talking to anyone but himself for a Wilson volleyball he finds in a washed-ashore Fed-X box. The movie’s massive hit status came by making more than $400 million at the box office. Other aspects entered popular lexicon, including a Fed-X ad spoofing the movie’s final scene. I think about the film weekly when our Pilates class instructor devises cruel schemes involving a ball. She calls out her demand: “Go get Wilson.” And we know what she means . His Majesty O’Keefe, 1954 with Burt Lancaster chasing coconuts in the South Pacific. Unlike the gang from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Lancaster’s title character ignores the horse clopping potential of coconuts and instead seeks them for oil made from copra. Though the real-life David O’Keefe washed ashore on Yap, producers (including Lancaster) chose Fiji’s Viti Levu island, using residents as well as locations for key scenes. Grand technicolor cinematography highlights scenery, while fights and rousing action offer a chance to showcase Lancaster’s well-muscled torso in a variety of stunts. The film’s swashbuckling allure proved popular in its day, and much of it holds up well decades later, with O’Keefe appreciating and respecting the different cultures he comes across. But then…well, rather than choose their leader from among themselves, islanders pick the great, white visitor as their king. He accepts, and for his coronation wears…a gray Confederate officer’s coat. And this after showing off great pecs in a tight blue muscle tee, a less formal but far more flattering and politically correct wardrobe option. The Truman Show, 1998 with Jim Carrey as the title character facing a discrepancy in his name since he lives the falsest of lives, a true man in a fake world. SPOILER ALERT: Fiji never shows up as a location, just a dream and green spot on a map. However,

reference to Fiji arrives

within 10 minutes of the movie’s run time when Truman holds a golf ball, points

to his home location and the spot where Fiji lies, noting “You can’t get any further away before you start coming back.” Inspired by a Twilight Zone episode, The Truman Show quickly lost its dystopian roots and made it on the list of most prescient films of all time, forecasting a soon-to-exist world obsessed by reality television. Director Peter Weir’s signature lyricism pervades, with masterful performances from Carrey and supporting actors Ed Harris, Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti. The Fiji connection worked for me when I mentioned the islands to my travel mentor and a friend from our times creating a Lake Tahoe film festival, Leo Buscaglia, world-renowned author of Living, Loving and Learning. “Go!” he said, adding that Fijian locals seemed especially warm and welcoming. Two weeks later I called his office to confirm our lunch that day, only to hear a tear-choked sob from his secretary. “Leo’s dead!” A heart attack felled him in early morning hours. Luckily, he left satisfied; he just watched The Truman Show and loved it, so his last film experience offered substance and entertainment. And Fiji. When I finally got to Fiji with my husband Fred, we paddled out on the ocean in a kayak, waiting for the sun’s golden hues to toast our friend. Fiji’s dateline location gives you an edge, with a chance to claim status as first in the world to do anything like remember a special person who encouraged living, loving, learning

and traveling.


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