Island Films: From Screen to Fame
The world’s islands have provided stunning locations for numerous feature films across the decades. Discover our favourite island films that have resulted in destinations rising to fame, either starring as themselves or standing in for others.
1960 thriller L’Avventura, starring Monica Vitti, was filmed on Lisca Bianca
One of the great works of Italian arthouse cinema, L’Avventura was released in 1960 and went on to win the jury prize at that year’s Cannes film festival. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and starring blonde bombshell Monica Vitti in the lead role of Claudia, it has been described as an existential thriller — although, being a mystery without a solution, it leaves some watchers feeling frustratingly adrift. The story follows a group of wealthy young Romans on a yachting holiday around the Aeolian islands, during which they land on the uninhabited islet of Lisca Bianca, to the east of Panarea. While they are there, Claudia’s friend Anna disappears, never to be seen again, and the rest of the film follows Anna’s boyfriend Sandro as he teams up with Claudia to try to discover what has become of her. Filmed in black and white, it is one of Antonioni’s most alluring and stylish films, despite the fact the cast and crew had to cope with funding disasters, major overruns, stormy weather and islands infested with rats.
Of all the islands that have featured in the Bond films over the years, the 16-acre island of Hashima (or Gunkanjima) must be one of the most extraordinary and sinister. In Skyfall, it plays the role of the lair of cyber-terrorist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), although, like most Bond films, the majority of the scenes set there were filmed in the studio. Hashima, a few miles southwest of Nagasaki, was the site of a major coal mine operated by Mitsubishi between 1887 and 1974. Its rocky shoreline was enclosed by a high sea wall, within which the concrete dormitories and factory buildings have long since succumbed to dereliction and decay, presenting a dystopian vision of the future that appeals to photographers and filmmakers alike. While much of the island remains off-limits, its crumbling buildings too dangerous to explore, certain areas opened to the public in 2009, and in 2015 it was classed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. For those of a less adventurous disposition, Hashima also features in a 2002 documentary by Swedish filmmaker Thomas Nordanstad, as well as a book, entitled Gunkanjima, by the French photographers Romain Meffre and Yves Marchand – a popular destination for island films!
The abandoned Japanese island Hashima
Skyfall saw filming off on on the island of Hashima, southwest of Nagasaki, Japan
CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN (2001)
The Ionian island of Kefalonia, off the west coast of Greece, has a lot for which to thank Louis de Bernières. His best‑selling novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin brought in thousands of extra tourists, attracted by its tragic history during the Second World War and the romance between the Italian captain Antonio Corelli and Pelagia, the daughter of a local doctor. Although the 2001 film version, starring Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz, was not the most popular island film being almost universally derided (not least by de Bernières), it did nothing to dent the island’s popularity, which is based less on its historic fabric – most of which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1953 – than on its attractive beaches and bucolic charm. Most of the film was shot around the village of Sami, on the island’s east coast, where its capital, Argostoli, was recreated as it may have looked during the war, but the book’s inspiration is said to have been the village of Farsa, near present-day Argostoli.
The village of Farsa in Kefalonia is said to have inspired Louis de Bernières
The 2001 film adaptation of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Live the dream
SOUTH PACIFIC (1958)
The 1958 film of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s hit musical South Pacific seems so exotic and artificial, with its super-saturated colours, delirious storyline and dreamy songs, that it’s something of a surprise to discover it wasn’t filmed entirely on a backlot in Hollywood. In fact, large parts of the movie were filmed on location, mainly around Hanalei Bay on the north shore of Kaua‘I. The fourth-largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago boasts one of the world’s most spectacular coastlines, including the Na Pali Coast nature reserve, which stretches for around 20 miles to the south-east of Hanalei. Each year, from December to May, humpback whales gather here to feed and breed, below cliffs that plunge thousands of feet into the sea, which also teems with dolphins and green sea turtles. As for Hanalei Bay, today it is a popular surfing destination, but in 1824 King Kamehameha II’s royal yacht, Pride of Hawaii, was wrecked there. The boat’s remains were excavated by the Smithsonian Institution in the late 1990s and are now on display in the Kaua‘i Museum.
The stunning colours of Kaua‘i’s Na Pali coast
Brooding Bay Views
BY THE SEA (2015)
Filmed in the shimmering light of the Maltese island of Gozo, By the Sea brings husband and wife team Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie Pitt together on screen for only the second time. Directed by Jolie Pitt, the film was shot in late 2014, shortly after the long-standing couple married in the south of France. Set mostly in the small bay of Mgarr ix-Xini, By the Sea is a brooding, moody period piece, with 70s-era costumes and interiors and an atmosphere that evokes the cinema of the decade. The Pitts play a married couple, but this is no Hollywood romance, rather an airless, lifeless partnership in apparent freefall, all brooding silences and wistful looks across the bay. For the purposes of the script, Gozo serves as the south of France, but the rugged beauty of this rocky cove is typical of the Maltese landscape. Gozo’s bays and coves offer up some of the finest quiet retreats in the region, with excellent swimming, diving and local cuisine.
The Citadel on Gozo, the rugged scenery of which was used to portray the south of France.
The Olympia, the wreck off the coast of Amorgos as seen in The Big Blue (1989)
THE BIG BLUE (1988)
Boasting fantastically blue crystal waters, the little-known Cycladic island Amorgos was thrust into the spotlight in 1988 when Luc Besson picked the destination for his infamous masterpiece The Big Blue. The narrative depicts a rivalry between two free-divers, childhood friends, each diving to record-breaking and dangerously deep depths. Though the film is set in Sicily, the rocky coastline cascading into transparent waters made Amorgos the ideal filming destination. Protagonist Jaques lives in an iconic white-walled and blue shutter house, while Enzo, the other free-diver, saves a panicked diver from the wreck of the Olympia – a rusted commercial vessel that has rested on the seabed of one of Amorgos’ bays since 1980. In spite of the films roaring success, Amorgos remains an unfrequented destination favoured by those appreciative of nature’s simplicity.