Nanook of the North (1922)

March 5, 2019

The Nanook of the North (1922) portrays the lives of the indigenous Inuit individuals of Canada's northern Quebec setting. The fact that the film production contains some fictional components, despite being a documentary film, Nanook of the North (1922) distinctively indicates how its ingenious subjects make due in such an unforgiving climate, uncovering how they build their igloo homes and discover food by hunting to whatever is around them. It was made in a way as to make it seems that Nanook (Allakariallak)’s daily life was so much more harsh than it is in real life.

The film opens by showing us the Eskimo Allakariallak, who is known as “Nanook”. located in the northern region, where just around 300 individuals living in a territory the extent of England. These people live altogether off the wild animals in the territory, which they kill for food and use the animals’ skin for protection from the cold climate. It is also show in the film how their barter system works, not distant from what we know to other cultures. The film shows how they build their homes for survival adventure over the snow-secured landscape, they have to camp some place. As seen in the film, Nanook sets about rapidly building an igloo out of the pressed snow. It incorporates a window made of ice that empowers them to see outside without exposing them to cold drafts. This is a broadly captivating scene, and it further depicts the lively enterprising nature of Nanook in nature.

The film, Nanook of the North (1922), has received controversial press. Personally, I don’t entirely agree with all of his methods but I do understand having to take creative liberties in order to complete a film and his methods proses the question if the film is truly a documentary. In cinema, there are methods in making a film documentary; these are, Cinéma Vérité and Direct Cinema. These are varying, but often interlocking forms of documentary styles, with the reasoning and purpose of revealing a more honest and less manipulated reality. On the surface, these styles can appear as cruder than conventional documentaries, however they can serve to be more immersive and less biased than your average documentary. There is a distinct difference between Direct Cinema and Cinéma Vérité, since they share many similarities in how much they deviate from conventional documentary. Direct Cinema acts as if the camera is not playing a physical role in the film, while Cinéma Vérité has filmmakers who are seen, can obtrude, can play a role in the situation, if someone is filming or a part of the film, they are a part of the action.

Nanook of the North (1922) had some staging, there was some interpretation and flat out lies, people now look at it being somewhat like a tv show. Flaherty had to overcome a lot to film it, as a film student myself, I know how it feels like taking all the liberty because as filmmakers, we do what’s best to create a masterpiece but this can defy the stereotype of documentaries itself, as most people stereotype documentaries as factual films about a certain subject, representing that subject in an unbiased way. This however isn’t the case in many documentaries, as bias can always affects the choices a filmmaker makes when it comes to representation. This in current standards (in film) would be seen as not only immoral.

As a film student who loves culture, I believe that Flaherty wanted to do was to preserve a record of a culture that is endangered. Flaherty didn't hide his methods and the message or lifestyle he wanted to convey is shown despite it being somewhat staged. We get to witness the different sides of Nanook. His loving and family oriented side, his hunting side, and the side of him that fights but comes to a tragic ending when he freezes to death. This was the best way to tell the story because it captures not only the Inuit lifestyle, but also what it was like for a human like Nanook to live in the harsh circumstances he lived in. This is similar to reenactments on TV shows. What happens on the screen is genuine, regardless of what happened behind it. Flaherty’s methods involved total fascination in these cultures in order to realize the basic patterns of life.

*** This written work is a requirement for Social Science class at the University of San Carlos. Any form of copying or publication is strictly prohibited and will not be tolerated.***

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Kushaiah is a filmmaker, editor, and
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