Throughout his exploration in Canada, the director Robert J. Flaherty started to develop a fascination towards the Inuit tribe. Flaherty, with his crank camera, began to film the daily life of this tribe and, with just a couple of months, he had a huge amount of film. But, unfortunately, the editing room was set on fire caused by a cigarette lit. Thanks to this event, Robert J. Flaherty took action and began filming once again and, in 1922, he released what is considered the first documentary film, “Nanook of the North“.
This film shows us the life of Nanook and his family in the struggle within a complicated environment to live. There is no doubt that this film was revolutionary. The production of this documentary shows us scenes from remote places; introducing a diverse and exotic culture to the audience. In addition, they play with the aesthetics of scenery surrounded by nature and balance it with the narrative of the documentary. Although this film is important for the history of cinema, at the time it received many criticisms.
The director has been criticized for portraying events staged as reality. The name of the main character is not Nanook but Allakariallak. Nala was not his wife in real life, but a person chosen for the role. In the igloo scene, the director had to intervene, since he needed to build it in a way that the camera could fit and that natural light would come in to be able to record. There were also several scenes that were staged such as the seal hunt or how the main character didn’t know what a rifle was; giving the film a more primitive touch.
Flaherty, by organizing images and stories, builds a narrative for this documentary film. We can see how he and his crew members integrate themselves in a completely different environment to provide a cinematic experience that had never occurred at that time. Although most of these scenes were altered and edified by the director, it does not detract from the importance of the film. This documentary manages to project a whole new world and culture to the audience.
[ title: Nanook of the North, picture by konterz, Licence CC ]