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Documents one year in the life of Nanook, an Eskimo (Inuit), and his family. Describes the trading, hunting, fishing and migrations of a group barely touched by industrial technology. Nanook of the North was widely shown and praised as the first full-length, anthropological documentary in cinematographic history. Written by
a time and place and scenes from a walk of life, nothing more or less
Robert Flaherty is one of the more noted documentarians in the history of film. It is not without some concentration (ironically maybe) to watch his most well-known work, Nanook of North, which is as much documentary as it is almost the very first widely seen "Home movie". There's no narration aside from the several title cards listing the obvious things that Nanook and his family/tribe are doing in the arctic. Therefore this is much more of a visual kind of documentary, not as outrageous and experimental as those of Dziga Vertov of the same period (using what camera equipment available, shooting seemingly on the fly), but with a distinct view on what life is usually like for these people. We basically see them doing very elementary tasks, more based on living day-to-day in this harsh climate than anything overly dramatized. That all of the scenes are really 'staged' (and, apparently, it's not even Nanook's real wife) doesn't deter the viewer from what is being shown. It's like a mix of the objective and subjective- objective in the sense that 'this is what it is, the Eskimos hunting for food, raising their children, making their shelter in igloos, and making trips to ensure their survival'. Subjective in that Flaherty's camera is creating a specific view of these people, their faces captured memorably in the scratchy print of the film. In a way it's also like the first, and perhaps more groundbreaking, of the lot of nature documentaries to follow over the years, though to a primitive extreme. In all, Nanook of the North is meant to above all show the versatility of these people, both the physical nature (i.e. hunting the seal, which is the most exciting in the film) and the nature of the spirit of these people, living this way as a cycle over and over again.
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