THE SOCHE BUFF'S GAZETTE
Professors Noh et al.___________________________________________2¢
"Nanook of the North." This film was made on Baffin Island in the Arctic Ocean
between Canada and Greenland. It premiered 1922. This film was the creation of Robert
Flaherty, an American who lived among the Inuit for several years. It is generally regarded as
the first social documentary film. When the National Archives began archiving classic
American films, "Nanook of the North" was one of the first archived.
Although this film was staged, it is an accurate portrayal of the traditional way of life
of the Inuit. Flaherty organized the film to show a year in the life of the Inuit and how they
come to terms with their biophysical environment. The film depicts the daily life of an Inuit
family. The focus of the film is Nanook (played by Alakkariallak). He has two wives (Nyla and
Cunayou) and four children (Allee and Allegoo and two babies). The film shows a trek to the
trading post, fishing for salmon, a walrus hunt, searching for food, uncovering a fox Nanook
trapped deep in the snow, building an igloo, teaching a boy to use a bow and arrow, a spit bath,
sleeping in a common bed made of hard-packed snow covered with furs, spear fishing for a
huge seal, traveling in a bitter storm and finding shelter in a deserted igloo. Nanook died of
starvation in 1923.
As good as this film is, it doesn't teach us much about the life of women and completely
neglects the European exploitation and transformation of Inuit culture. There is nothing about
bear, whale, and caribou hunting.
There are tens of articles, one film, and several books about the making of this film and
the people involved. The 1974 feature film, "The White Dawn" (starring Lou Gossett, Jr. and
based on the novel of the same title), contains a number of scenes that ape ones in "Nanook of
the North." The 1959 feature film "The Innocent Savages" (starring Anthony Quinn and
featuring the screen debut of Peter O’Toole) is loosely based on The Top of the World by Hans
Ruesch. The 1996 film "Kabloonak" chronicles the making of "Nanook of the North."
A good book about the life of contemporary Inuit is The Fourth World by Sam Hall.
Many Inuit now use snowmobiles not dogsleds, guns not bows and arrows, welfare checks not
self-sufficient hunting and fishing. Most Inuit communities are troubled by high rates of
joblessness, suicide, and alcoholism.