Sunday, 13 November 2016

I've Just Seen: Nanook of the North (1922)

Director: Robert J. Flaherty

Much has been said about the many inaccuracies of Flaherty's documentary. How the people portrayed really had different names, weren't actually a family, and the practices they perform were already out-dated when Flaherty made the film (amongst other things). It is important to know all this while watching the film so one doesn't watch it thinking this is a slice of real life. And yet the film is still worth watching.

Its importance in film history alone makes it significant. This is one of the earliest surviving documentaries, and rather than someone just going out with a camera and filming what they see, Flaherty had a purpose to his ideas and what he wanted to present. The story of the film, while not as 'real' as Flaherty may show, is still a very engaging one. 'Nanook' (or rather Allakariallak) and his people are portrayed as skilled and intelligent, and their bravery and hardiness in navigating the harsh world of the Arctic is lauded by the film.

For me the biggest draw was the animal life. We see a walrus hunt with real walruses, and watch several men haul in one giantic creature. There are also seals, various birds, and the huskies who pull the sleds. Even when being killed or left outside in the cold, the animals are delightful to watch. The scenery is also wonderful, with from the glaring sunshine on the miles of ice and icebergs, to the blizzard that surrounds the tiny igloo in snow.


  1. Yes, this is a documantary that stands its ground against all the attacks it has faced over the years. there is a scene where an entire family crawls out of a kayak which is a tongue in cheek way of saying that maybee you should not trust all you see.
    Apparently this was an era where every expedition brought its own "cinematographer". Scott did it, Knud Rasmussen did it and all those African expeditions brought footage home of wildlife and exotique natives. Flaherty was simply better than most and less impressed with his own expedition, leaving more interest on the natives.

    1. That kayak scene was funny, I had forgotten it!

      I like that Flaherty took interest in th people he met, even if it lead to fictionising of some parts of his film. He doesn't look down on them as 'noble savages,' but truly believes they are intelligent, brave people, and wanted to show others.