Père Patrick O’Reilly was a French anthropologist of Irish descent who traced his ancestry to a forebear who moved to France in the late eighteenth century. Having interrupted his studies at the Sorbonne, first for a term of military service, then to study at a seminary of the Marist Fathers, O’Reilly was finally ordained as a priest in 1928. He was then appointed to be the chaplain at the Marist hostel in Paris, which allowed him to complete his studies at the Institut d’Ethnologie, graduating in 1932.
In 1934-35, with the support of both his Marist superiors and Paul Rivet, then the director of the Musée d’Ethnologie du Trocadéro, the predecessor of the Musée de l’Homme, O’Reilly carried out a field research project on the North Solomons island of Bougainville, where Marist missionaries were strongly entrenched. The island then formed part of Australian New Guinea and now is part of the independent state of Papua New Guinea.
The purpose of the field trip was to carry out a general ethnographic study, collect objects for the museum and make a film. For the latter purpose, he took with him a Debrie Parvo camera with a 120m magazine and a lightweight Bell & Howell as a back-up. Initially, he was assisted by a professional operator, Pierre Berkenheimer but he appears to have shot the remainder of the material himself.
The material was later edited into two different films: Bougainville, a silent film of 70 minutes which offered a general ethnographic account of life on the island, and Popoko, île sauvage, aimed at a more popular audience and only 20 minutes in duration but with a soundtrack featuring two songs and some general atmosphere effects recorded on location.
Many years later, in the early 1970s, the CNRS funded the release of a restored, shorter version of Bougainville, with a new voice-over commentary recorded by O’Reilly.
Text : Laracy 2013