This silent documentary, Nanook of the North, was the result of a series of explorations that took place in the Canadian Arctic between 1910 and 1916 by the explorer Robert J. Flaherty. It is an important historical document of a vanished way of life.
The film follows the lives of Nanook, an Inuk, and his family. He was a hunter whose fame was well-known throughout Ungava, an area about the size of England located in Canada’s Hudson Bay region. Less than 300 persons inhabited this space at the time. The living conditions were brutal and severe, but this small family learned how to survive. They relied on moss for fuel, hunted most of the year, and bartered skins of fox and polar bear for additional supplies, including candy.
It has been said that no other race could ever survive living in a place where the soil is that sterile and the climate is that harsh, but the Inuit have. Almost completely reliant on animal life and natural resources, they have survived to become a cheerful and lovable people.
Teamwork and cooperation are indispensable for this amazing group of people. It’s impressive how they remained happy and cheerful in spite of not having any of the luxuries many of us take for granted. In the end, it just goes to show that family closeness and the occasional nose rub can go a long way. Two years after completing this project, Flaherty received news that Nanook had died.
The filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty faced many difficulties including the loss of most of the footage he had painstakingly edited. This loss led him to stage many sequences in the film, for which he was sternly criticized and called a fraud but nonetheless the film is ground-breaking cinema and, according to some, one of the best documentaries ever made.