Directed by Robert J. Flaherty
Reviewed by MaT, added on Jan 1 2005
Nanook of the North is widely recognized as the first full-length documentary in film history. The movie follows the exploits of an Eskimo named Nanook and the trials and tribulations he goes through with his family to live in the frigid Arctic. The documentary "documents" everything from the Eskimo's trading foxes to building igloos to catching seal. But it is some of the more personal moments Flaherty catches on film that make this movie great. One of my favorite scenes was when the Eskimo children decided to sled down a snowy slope, laughing and giggling just like any American child would. It's scenes like that that really hit home the fact that these people, although they live in what many Americans would generally call "hardship", are just as happy, if not more so, than anyone living in "comfort".
Flaherty's film succeeds by also never seeming to "get involved" with the family. Maybe that's not the best way to describe it. I guess it is kind of like, it doesn't feel like there is a camera crew filming all of this. I completely forgot that this was a "movie" and felt more like it was an open window, and I was viewing an amazing sequence of a life that I couldn't possibly imagine. Nanook and his family come across as such genuine, happy people that it almost seems like it couldn't be possible. When you are sitting in a warm apartment and typing at a computer screen while drinking hot chocolate, it's hard to imagine how someone could be enormously happy with having to spend hours creating an igloo that will only be used for the night, sleeping covered in bear skins, and drinking water melted by an oil lamp. It puts things in perspective.
I was highly impressed with Nanook of the North. From the incredible footage and individual shots that were gathered, to the great narration, and the highly likeable family of Eskimos, this picture is definitely a gem of a documentary.