This is my entry for “N” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “N” documentaries I’ve reviewed are New York: A Documentary Film, The 1964 World’s Fair, The Night James Brown Saved Boston, No-No: A Dockumentary, and NOVA: Iceman Reborn.
Title: Nanook of the North: A Story Of Life and Love In the Actual Arctic
Release Date: June 11, 1922
Director: Robert J. Flaherty
Production Company: Pathé Exchange
It’s hard to pinpoint the first documentary film ever made. The term “documentary” didn’t come into use until 1926. But many of the earliest motion pictures made were documentaries in the sense that they documented events and everyday life as they presented the wonders of film. All that being said, there’s a good case that Nanook of the North is the first feature-length documentary.
On the other hand, not everything in this movie is factual, as Flaherty chose to stage some elements for dramatic and practical reasons. The central figure “Nanook” is actually named Allakariallak, and the woman said to be his wife was not actually his wife. The Inuit had adopted Western-style clothing and weapons by this time, but for the film they wear traditional clothing made of animals skins and hunt with harpoons instead of firearms. It was impossible to fit the camera inside an igloo and have appropriate light to film, so a special three-sided igloo was built for interior shots.
Despite the film being more docudrama than documentary, I still felt a sense of awe watching these real live people from nearly a century ago, at the time my grandparents were still children. And the Inuit we see are in fact kayaking through ice floes, hunting walrus and seals, and building an igloo. It’s also impressive that Flaherty could make such an ambitious film in Arctic Canada with the limited technology available at the time. Finally, Allakariallak shines through as a genuinely warm and ingenious hero of the film.
What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:
Keeping in mind the caveats above about staged scenes, Nanook of the North still provides a glimpse into the traditional lifeways of the Inuit. The Inuit we see in the film are essentially reenacting the practices of their recent ancestors. And as Roger Ebert notes “If you stage a walrus hunt, it still involves hunting a walrus, and the walrus hasn’t seen the script.”
If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:
Listen to the music of Tanya Tagaq, and Inuk artist from Nunavut, Canada, who performs traditional throat singing and creates fusion with more contemporary styles of music. Tagaq has even performed live musical accompaniment to screenings of Nanook of the North, which is something I’d really like to see!
019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:
- 2016: A journey through my neighborhood of Jamaica Plain in Boston.
- 2017: A spontaneous photograph each day.
- 2018: Watched and reviewed documentary movies.
And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:
- Book Reviews
- Movie Reviews
- Beer Reviews
- Music Reviews and Writing
- City Stories, expository writing about my experiences in various cities
And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.