Nanook of the North

Nanook of the North was not initially intended as a documentary, a genre which had not even been defined at the time of the film’s production. As Flaherty’s widow Frances affirms in the interview featured on this disc, the film was made with an eye for commercial distribution and exhibition, and for audiences accustomed to narrative fiction films. Flaherty was not an ethnographer, but he was building his story out of the materials of real life. In this he was blazing cinematic trails, and even though the tenets of anthropological filmmaking were not nearly in place, it is remarkable how much he still managed to get right. Initiating a practice that would later become fundamental ethnographic etiquette, Flaherty developed each day’s footage and screened it for the participants, who were encouraged to make suggestions. Since the Inuit were the authorities on their own lives, many of these suggestions were incorporated into the film. Consistent with this substantial artistic collaboration, and contrary to a narrative and stylistic impulse that would prevail elsewhere for many more years, Flaherty does not intrude on his subject. He is not the star of his film, and though his effaced presence causes a few unsightly wrinkles (contrivances—like Nanook’s biting of the phonograph record—are presented as actual and natural), for the most part it means that the credit for the film’s feats of courage and grace goes precisely where it belongs: to the Inuit.” – Dean W. Duncan, Nanook of the North

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