Nanook of the North - please comment below

 Film Review: Nanook of the North
Film Info
79 minutes
Black and White

Robert Flaherty’s classic film tells the story of Inuit hunter Nanook and his family as they struggle to survive in the harsh conditions of Canada’s Hudson Bay region. Enormously popular when released in 1922, Nanook of the North is a cinematic milestone that continues to enchant audiences. The original director’s cut is restored to the proper frame rate and tinted according to Flaherty’s personal print.
Nanook of the North was the first of Robert J. Flaherty's romantic depictions of man's dignified perseverance in combating a malevolent nature. Flaherty is often called "the father of the documentary", and he did make the first theatrical documentary feature with Nanook. But that fact does not do justice to the humanism and the technical brilliance that makes his best works -- Nanook, Man of Aran and Louisiana Story -- beautiful and enduring.
Flaherty was an explorer, a prospector and a surveyor when he made Nanook in 1920 at the age of thirty-six. Earlier, he had undertaken several explorations to sub-Arctic regions around Hudson Bay between 1910 and 1916. Flaherty had an intimate knowledge of Eskimo society and had even made an earlier film on Eskimo life (now lost). Filmmaking, however, was long a sideline to his other research interests.
After unsatisfactory results from the earlier film, Flaherty returned to the eastern Hudson Bay with backing from the Revillion Freres fur company. He brought along sophisticated cameras and his own printing, developing and projection equipment. Watching the dailies as he went along, Flaherty honed his luminous visual style until it approximated his perfectionist's standards. And, crucially, this time he concentrated on a single individual who could stand in for all of Eskimo society.
The resulting film is not a true ethnographic record. Flaherty's subjects improvised events from their daily lives or from customs of their culture's recent past. Because he knew Eskimo society so well, Nanook is considered to be ethnographically correct. Flaherty deliberately chose appealing, rather idealized, people -- even to the point of creating bogus families. The Inuit leader, Nanook, his wife, Naya and their children, Allegoo and Cunayon, are all tremendously appealing.
Nanook of the North is a documentary milestone because it reveals the filmmaker as much as it does his subjects. Flaherty captured aesthetically what he felt was the essence of Eskimo life --the unrelenting struggle to secure food and shelter. The elemental nature of this struggle was noble and gave their lives a purity and transcendence. We see this through the prism of Flaherty's romantic sensibility that finds the same timeless beauty in the desolate, unforgiving landscape and in the worn, happy face of Nanook.
Nanook is composed of vignettes from the lives of a band of Itivimuit people, Nanook, his family and followers. We are introduced to Nanook and family as they humorously pull each other, one by one, from of the interior of a kayak. Flaherty gives us a strong sense of identification with them and participation in their routines. We visit a trading post, get trapped in blocked ice and hunt for walrus, fox and seal. One episode shows the speedy and precise construction of the igloo, complete with window, within an hour; another episode shows the prolonged struggle with a large seal that is spotted, snared and pulled out of its breathing hole onto the ice plain.
There seems to be no barrier between Flaherty and the Eskimos. His tenderness to them was obviously returned -- and extends to an audience seventy-five years later. If anyone else has rendered simple, open humanity (in this form) as well as Flaherty, they don't come to mind. The sight of Allegoo smiling into the camera as he savors castor oil -- of all things -- is incredibly touching. He seems to stand in for all children -- the most universal moment of an already cosmic film experience.
Nanook, himself, is a screen "natural" -- warm, worn, tough and triumphant. He and Flaherty make it possible to put yourself in his shoes. You feel how close we are to our antecedents who either scrapped for sustenance or starved (as Nanook did two years after the films' premiere). Flaherty simultaneously developed a new genre -- the popular documentary -- and created a potent archetype of the "noble savage" that still haunts us.
Following the film we will have a discussion on the following topics:
Human adaptation to the environment
The technology used by the Eskimo to survive
The organization of family
The organization of economic life
The importance of the film as a historic document in visual anthropology






[Isobel Connors,, 9/15]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


1. Seeing this film in class helped me better understand Jay Ruby's discussion on Flaherty's utilization of the narrative form.  By presenting "Nanook's" life through a story, Flaherty was able to attract a greater audience to his film; as a result, the general public was able to appreciate a culture that they might typically overlook.

2. The soundtrack, though providing humor at times, builds the anticipation of the Inuit's fight against their environment.  On the other hand, I wonder what the original presentation was like and what Flaherty would think if of the film as it is shown today. 

3. I enjoyed how Flaherty intersperses scenes of Nanook hunting with his family interactions.  This technique creates an intimacy with the white audience who would not normally associate themselves with such a foreign culture.





[Skye Naslund,, 9/11]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


1-Before having seen the film I was curious as to how visible relationships between people would be because of the lack of sound.  Almost as soon as the film started, those relationships jumped out and dialog was not necessary. 

2-Knowing that the film was made for film’s sake and that the Inuit acting the scenes out were not an actual family, I am want to know how that affected the relationships between people that we see.  Because the situation is out of the ordinary for the people being filmed, can the film truly show realistic depictions of familial relationships?  How much is real, how much is acting and how much just is not there?

3-The music in the film “Nanook of the North” contributed greatly to the underlying emotions of each scene.  People usually pick up on emotion through tone of voice and facial manipulation, which in the film were somewhat lacking due to the lack of sound, the heavy coats that sometimes covered the face, and the knowledge that a camera was present which most likely affected the facial manipulation.  As with any ethnographic film, you have to wonder how true to life the participants were.  Because the normal emotional tellers were missing, the sound track filled in the gap, but how effectively can music replace the emotion that each person personally brings to a situation.




[Jennifer Mahoney 9/10]


Film: Nanook of the North

1. Throughout the movie the Inuit are always smiling.  Could people surviving some of the worst conditions on Earth really be so jolly? I wonder if their smiles are a response to the camera surveillance.

2. I was amazed to see such proficient hunting skills displayed by Nanook as he was able to catch a seal through a tiny hole in the ice and trap a fox alive.

3. I felt it was a very well-made film for its time period.  It seemed to be committed to portraying an accurate view of the Inuit people.




[Stephanie Aquilina 9/9]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


1. Flaherty filmed Nanook with a narrative style that captured the Inuits’ everyday struggle for survival: mankind versus the environment. Since this is a theme that all humans (to varying degrees) can relate to, it is evident that Flaherty built his film around this and other aspects of humanity (i.e. when the girl was playing with the fox, when the kids were sledding down the slopes, and when the father blew warm air onto his child’s hands) that extend cross-culturally in order to minimize the sense of emotional distance between “us” and “them.” Ultimately, Flaherty represented the Inuits as nobly as possible so that viewers could appreciate and admire the Inuit way of life, as he so passionately did.

2. The way Flaherty staged some of his scenes, while slightly inaccurate, seemed to be rather innocent – never claiming to be an anthropologist, Flaherty was not trying to conform to anyone’s expectations (academic or commercial). He was clear in his intentions to show the Inuit people as they proudly viewed their own traditional culture – a valuable insight in and of itself.

3. The Inuits seemed to be enjoying themselves during the making of the movie – laughing during the creation of the “aggie igloo” and suggesting scenes to be added - and while acting in it. To me, the fact that they understood what was going on with the film, agreed to it, were willing and eager to help out, actually embraced such an opportunity to be active participants in its creation, and eventually wanted copies to show to their future generations, gives merit to the film’s (and Flaherty's) overall impact and experience. END




[Shamiran Warda,, 9/9]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


1. I found the film entitled “Nanook of the North” to be very entertaining, even though at first I was a little spectacle about it since it was filmed in the 1920’s. The use of words as the narration and the colors of the film, being black and white, I believe added a great deal of depth to it. The sound track was also equally important.

2. I view this film as one of a kind because it is not something that you see often. Some of the scenes are truly hard to forget such as the scene where Nanook pulled out around four people, including a little puppy, from his little canoe. In addition, the hunting scenes were entertaining, such as the hunt for the walrus.

3. However, in this film, I feel that not everything went as it usually goes when there are no cameras around. I feel Robert Flaherty had to advise the people when they can kill and eat the animals they hunted and how to truly portray themselves so the scenes come out looking better. I feel in certain scenes the people had to wait for the cameras to be on and ready before going on with their everyday lifestyle.




[Heather Warren,, 9/9]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


1.  In my opinion, this movie was well made for its time since it flowed well and it utilized the available technology. Even though the film is in black and white, I don't think that the lack of color detracted at all but rather enhanced the experience, causing the audience to focus on images and actions rather than bright colors and the flashiness of more modern films.2.   Though many things in the movie were staged (like the half igloo), I don't think that actually detracted from the movie since I got the impression that the ethnographer was trying to show the more traditional aspects of the Inuit culture.

3.   I think that the director of the film did a great job of connecting his audience with the subjects of the movie. It was easy to feel for the people in the story and creating and maintaining such a connection with the audience is important in conveying the proper information. END




[Jennifer Ritzenthaler,, 9/8]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


1. I really enjoyed "Nanook of the North." I thought that it might have been better with a speaker doing the narration; however, I have considered that it was a purposeful choice using writing, by perhaps showing how quiet life can be with the Inuit.

2. The black and white may have been due to the time it was made, but I think that it helps to show the darkness and the vast expanses of white that are an actual reality for the Inuit people.

3. Overall, I believe that the movie may not have been entirely factual since things like taping the film during a dangerous storm seems unlikely; but I still believe that there are important parts of Inuit life that Flaherty was able to depict and document.




[Cameron Mack,, 9/7]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


1.   This film really intrigued me and I enjoyed every part of it. Nanook of the North was filmed in a way that I am not normally accustom to seeing, which made me question a lot of what I saw. I was, at first, surprised by the daily life of an eskimo from the 20's. I'm not exactly sure why I reacted this way, for it is not surprising to see an eskimo hunting, fishing, and constructing igloos.

2.   After viewing this film, all I could think of was how different I must be from an Eskimo. Mulling this over in my mind, I started to envision the tender moments of the film. The moments where Nanook embraces his family and loved ones struck a nerve with me and made me realize that different cultures don't necessarily make different people. I saw much of my own qualities in Nanook, as well as many more admirable traits in him that I do not possess. We're all humans with natural emotions, making me similar to an Eskimo? I guess that theory could possibly work.

3.   I saw many times in the film that the camera angle would change and something would be different in the shot, whether it be a missing object or an added one. This made me question the authenticity of the film, however, I did keep in mind that this film was filmed close to 80 years ago. I took what I saw in the film to be absolute truth and honesty on the part of Flaherty. I understand that I need to view these enthographic films objectively and think about every aspect of it, but that seemed to jump out at me most of all.




[Dan McConvey,, 9/7]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


 I enjoyed this film a lot. The Eskimo live different lives from us, but it really raises the question, “How different are we?” We were able to see, while staged at some parts, the essence of Eskimo life. I found it endearing to see a culture so far removed from my own show qualities that seem to be inherently human. It makes one question which qualities are results of our culture and which are just the result of human nature. The film doesn’t even need sound. One can see joy. As Nyla takes care of her child, I feel good about the fact that simple things like a mother’s love transcend culture. Be it an Eskimo kiss or a phone call just to check in there are feelings that are just cross-cultural and innately human. I think that this film is amazing in its simplicity and rawness. It isn’t trying too hard, and by doing so it reveals qualities about the Eskimo and humans in general that would otherwise be lost in the “fluff”, so to speak, that seems to dominate a lot of film today.




[Rebecca Coons,, 9/5]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


After reading the Ruby chapter on Flaherty and his making of this film, it seemed like he stuck to the truth and disregarded the Hollywood movie theatrics we see in so many suppposedly cultural films today. I was looking around online, however, and learned that the woman who portrayed Nanook's wife wasn't actually his wife and we already knew about the scene with the igloo. I also read that Nanook used a gun when hunting, but Flaherty convinced him to hunt in a more traditional way for the film. This makes me think that he was trying to portray the Inuit culture as primative and lacking technology, but I could be way off the mark. With things like this that were staged, as we finish the film, I don't think it'll look the same to me. Once you learn that a few things portrayed aren't real, who's to say what else has been staged?








[Lanh Nguyen,, 9/5]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


Although Nanook of the North is considered to be one of the first ethnographic films produced in history, I felt that the majority of events and activities that occured were extremely staged. i.e. the scene where Nanook sees and catches the white fox in the snow, Nanook and the other hunters capturing the walrus, and the entire scene where Nanook trades with the white man.

This film comes off overly presentational rather than representational as it should be if it's considered an ethnographic film by anthropologists alike.

How were the babies fully naked while the parents and children clothed in winter suits and covered from head to toe?






[Dave Roberts,, 9/6]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


1. I remember reading in Ruby that the Inuit did not show much expression in their faces. That's why I was so surprised when I saw Nanook of the North. Nanook and his family were so warm and expressive, even in the harsh tundra, continuously fighting for their own survival; I found it incredibly endearing. Perhaps it was the simplicity of the lifestyle, the simplicity of their mindstates, just being around those they valued and cared for, working with one another for something as basic as pure survival, that was so fulfilling for them.

2. Did the dogs freeze to death out in the snow at the end? It was the choice of editing technique, cutting between the warm family cuddled together in the igloo and then to the dogs as they slowly became covered in snow, that suggested this to me.

3. I loved how the whole family was apparently inside of that kayak in the beginning! Perhaps it's having to live in those igloos all the time, but the Inuit must have no sense of claustrophobia... I would freak out if I was shut in a little igloo all night personally.




[Dilek Canakci,, 9/8]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


Although Nanook of the North is one of the first ethnographic films made, I thought it was well done because they captured everything that the people do in order to survive and the rituals that they participated in. I think with the scenes where they captured the dogs freezing outside while they were trying to go to sleep inside the igloo, they showed how these people were forced to make sacrifices in order to survive. I definitely did not like the fact that the dogs were left to freeze outside but it certainly showed that all cultures have a negative aspect to them. It is most certainly important to pick out what you do like and do not like about the cultures that you are being exposed to because the opinion of the viewer should be critical and should give a sense of how you feel about the movie all together.



[Laurie Sadofsky,, 9/9]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


  1. The Inuits cannot grow any food and must survive on the animals they are able to hunt. In the movie Nanook’s skill and strength are shown as he kills a seal and walrus, animals larger than himself. We also see the skins of 4 polar bears, animals known for their aggression and power.
  2. The social organization is somewhat blurred in the film. There seems to be more of a division of labor based on that which is taught to children from a young age. Boys are made to be hunters and women are responsible for sewing clothes; in addition to many other jobs for each gender.
  3. Closeness between Flaherty and Nanook is apparent since the latter allows his family’s entire lives to be filmed. If that relationship did not exist we would not see the family waking up in the morning and getting dressed or the mother rubbing noses with her son.
  4. I would have liked to hear the conversation of the family filmed. After reading the introduction to this page, I’m disappointed that the scenes filmed were so staged and the activities shown are not how the Inuit actually lived. However, the reading in Ruby on Flaherty did not suggest that so much of the film was from Flaherty’s image of the Inuit culture, so I guess every source must be questioned. I'm glad we were able to see Nanook build the igloo, cut a door and add ice as a window. It shows how the culture has truly adapted to their surroundings.





 [Elen De Oliveira,, 9/10]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


1.  The film from the preface plays on your emotions.  You are already attached to Nanook from his story and the emotional music.  Becuase you know he dies around two years after the film was made, you want to see him while he's living.  Then once you see he has family you are even more attached.


2.  The music is chosen carefully and wisely.  It is sad when necessary and urgent or happy when appropriate. Because there is no other sound such as diologue in the movie, music plays a large role in the success of the film.  It is amazing how much just music and added text can do.


3.  It is interesting to see how the basics of human life are the same and have always been the same.  We can all identify with their need to find food and a place to sleep.  We are emotionally connected which makes us want to watch more.  There is a story and there is narration, but we are still learning about the culture which makes this film so great.


The films credibility for me is questioned, however, but the fact that in those seemingly terrible conditions Flaherty or someone must have been filming.  So were these conditions and situations all staged? 




[Anne Kim,, 9/4]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


1.This film was surprisingly humorous. I felt that Flaherty captured the joyous parts of an Eskimo’s life as well as the hardships they face.


2. I realize the significance of music throughout this film. For example, when the walrus is attacked and killed by the hunters, the music is a triumphant music, which makes the audience happy for the hunters. However, if there was sad music playing, we would be sympathetic towards the walrus.


3. There seems to be a very a strict custom in gender roles. The wife is in charge of taking care of the children and helping their husbands prepare for their day of hunting, while the men are completely in charge of hunting and bringing home food.





[Al Dilluvio,, 9/10]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


1. The film is actually quite good. Because it was made long ago, it isnt as readily susceptible to contemporary criticisms. It is a simple film which relies heavily on images of Nanook's emotions and the interactions between members of his family and community. It isnt too invasive and the lack of dialogue and questioning gives the film a simple and untainted look at Inuit life.


2.  However, the music and filmography play a very important role in Nanook. The inclusions of certain scenes of the ocean, the snow, and the ice emphasize what audiences are going to think is different and spectacular. The music is also there to induce certain feelings or responses in the audience. This is where i feel Nanook fails. One should watch an ethnography without being influenced to feel a certain way. The lighting and music do this to audiences.


3. I do not like acting out ethnography for all the obvious reasons. However, because it was made so long ago, and it was filmed in such a difficult to shoot location, i think we can cut Flaherty a little slack. It really is a good film despite its obvious shortcomings.




[Jonathon Baker,, 9/11]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


1.  I enjoyed the film a lot, but it is very easy to see that it paints a very happy picture of what must be in truth a very harsh and difficult lifestyle.  I mean, Nanook did die within a year or two after this film was made of starvation.  The family was always smiling and you never saw a hunt that was a large failure for Nanook and his family, forcing them to go hungary in the freezing cold.


2.  I also agree with Al to some extent about "cutting Flaherty some slack."  While the music does stir people's emotions and it is solely the director that has complete control of it, because the film has no voices in it, music is a must to fill in the space.  Music is certainly better than nothing.  Also for the time period that the film was made, I think it is very well done.  It showed the developed world a very unique and at the time little know people and way of life and I'm sure audiences found the film very interesting. 


3.  On a more humorous note...HOLY COW...does he really fit his entire family in his kayak??  I thought that was abosolutely absurd!  Can it really handle that much weight?? Can his family memebers stand to all fit inside it??  Sounds pretty claustrophobic to me...




 Charlie Genao 9/13/07


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


1.  I liked "Nancook of the North" but the film had trouble with time and space and it left alot of questions unaswered but the film was funny.


2.  I feel like that the movie was made for amusement and not for education. Maybe the technology back then was not as good as today's but aleast it showed that the people environment and how hard it is since the people who he was filming died of starvation but I wonder how he(Flaherty) survivied living in that environment.


3.  When I was watching the movie, It made me laugh but it did not give the whole picture since it kinda left out kinship and religion which are part of their culture.





[Kaitlyn Northrop, 9/10]
Film: Nanook of the North

I just have to say that I absolutely love Nanook. The way that he responds

to Flaherty and the filming team make it seem like he is actually

interacting with the audience of the film. He connects to his viewers

with a sense of humor and ease with everything that he is doing. It

really captivates the audience and keeps them interested in watching what

he does. I also liked how Flaherty was able to keep the science part of

his film without ruining the entertainment part. He was able to portray

all of the struggles that Nanook had, while at the same time still keeping

the audience interested. I was very impressed with this film.





[Lok Yung Yam,, 9/19]


Film:  "Nanook of the North"


1. I loved this movie because of the way Nanook laughs. He seems so child-like (in a good way).


2. Even though the movie might have had a few staged scenes, those were the best parts. It allowed me to enjoy the movie a lot more.


3. And even though Nanook watched like a commercial film, I think I learned a lot.



[Justin Wilmott,, 9/21]


Film: Nanook of the North


Nanook of the North far surpassed any and all expectations that I had for the film.  Knowing that it was filmed in the 1920’s, I was expecting much less from Flaherty.  I found the movie entertaining and enlightening, which I believe is important in making a film that is trying to teach us something.  The film will have a greater impact when it is entertaining, as well as producing factual information.


Some ethnographers, and other viewers of the film, argue that Flaherty was wrong is staging some of the scenes, and with this I half agree.  With scenes such as the phonograph, I believe it was wrong to make Nanook and his family pretends they did not understand what a phonograph was or how it worked, and the bit where they tried to bite the record was a bit much.  However, I feel that the reenactment of hunting the seal did not damage the respect of the Inuit, but aloud us to see such an event take place.  As it was the 1920’s, film was very expensive, and unlike digital tapes, you couldn’t just record over them.  So, in reenacting the struggle with the seal, we were able to see what a task hunting a seal might have been.  Also, take into account that we as a culture enjoy seeing reenactments of history and events to learn from, such as the reenactments of the Civil War, or plays such as 1776.


Overall I believe this film to be regarded in high standards because it gives us a glimpse into what Inuit life was like, more accurately, what Inuit life was like before they had guns adn the use of steel.  With out it, I know I myself would be less knowledgeable about the Inuit’s way of life long ago, and I doubt many other people, unless studying the Inuit, would find something as true and easily accessible as this movie.






[Dan Lilly,, 9/21]


Film: Nanook of the North


One of the things I like this film so much is because of the way it captures the spirit and attitude of the Inuit. I think that's why I continue to like it even when I hear about things being staged or inaccurate. They seem like a jovial yet hard-working people, and it would be very difficult to see that without the use of film.





[Nicole Rothman,, 9/21]

Nanook of the North

1.    I was surprised to see how many people could fit in the kayak, it was like a “clown car” It was quite amazing.

2.    It was interesting to see that the women used their hoods to carry around the babies and the puppies. It’s an interesting way to use the space, when they’re not wearing the hood, they carry the baby in it.

3.    It was interesting to see how the igloo was built, I always wondered how they were able to build them circular and not have it cave in. It was also interesting that they put a window in, I never thought they would’ve done that.




[Larkin Kimmerer,, 9/21]

Nanook of the North

1. Even though we knew that the igloo was cut in half for the film, I was impressed watching Nanook and the family build the igloo, and so quickly! Under an hour, including that nice window for light.

2. I think I was pretty skeptical when I was watching the movie. The movie said that they had to get to shelter quickly because of an incoming storm, yet the film shows the family driving off away from the camera...wouldn't Flaherty have wanted to not waste time filming when he was about to freeze to death? Also, how did he film the dogs "all night" during that terrible storm if he was supposed to be in the igloo? I guess things like that just didn't make much sense to me; if I was the filmmaker, I would also be concerned with my own safety.



[Brendan Ryan,, 10/20]

Nanook of the North

1) This film really brought to life what we had been reading in Ruby.  It was interesting to see some of the scenes that were staged and know what was really going on.  For instance the igloo which was actually half of an igloo, and the fishing scene which was actually just two guys playing tug-of-war with a rope that went under the ice.

2) At first when I read that some of the scenes were staged, my initial thought was that the integrity of the film was somehow compromised but the more I think about it, the more I feel that this film was put together in part by the Inuit themselves.   So while yes some scenes may have been staged, they were staged based on the knowledge of the Inuit which makes it less of a fabrication.




[Adam Saunders, , 10/21]


Nanook of the North

It was facinating to see Nanook an Inuit perform his native tasks, primarily the hunting strategies he used. Hunts like the walrus despite being life thrreateningly dangerous is done without hesitation and with skill aquired through their elders as well as years of experience.


The interaction with the Inuit and some of the modern devices was intrigueing. Such objects as the music player seemed to facinate not only the children but Nanook himself as well.


The building of the igloo was something I had never seen before. Nanook and his family made it seem so easy. However due to their expansive knowledge of the various kinds of snow they are able to assemble the structure with ease and even install a window created out of ice.




[Geni Beninati,, 10/22]

Nanook of the North


1) I feel as if this film would have been more involving had there been narration.  It almost would have been better without the text.


2) The film was incredibly amusing, especially during the scenes where Nanook was hunting.  As humorus as it was, it gave a very good understanding of how the Inuit peformed day to day tasks.


3) Flatherty was able to get very close to Nanook and the rest of the Inuit.  The way Flatherty truly absorbed himself in the society proves a good point about ethnographic fim making- cultures will be more receptive to being filmed if they feel they are being taken seriously.