Nanook of the North (also known as Nanook of the North: A Story Of Life and Love In the Actual Arctic) is a 1922 silent documentary film by Robert J. Flaherty. In the tradition of what would later be called salvage ethnography, Flaherty captured the struggles of the Inuk Nanook and his family in the Canadian arctic. The film is considered the first feature-length documentary, though Flaherty has been criticized for staging several sequences and thereby distorting the reality of his subjects' lives.
In 1989, this film was one of the first 25 films to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Flaherty has been criticized for deceptively portraying staged events as reality. "Nanook" was in fact named Allakariallak, while the "wife" shown in the film was not really his wife. According to Charles Nayoumealuk, who was interviewed in Nanook Revisited (1988), "the two women in Nanook - Nyla (Alice [?] Nuvalinga) and Cunayou (whose real name we do not know) were not Allakariallak's wives, but were in fact common-law wives of Flaherty." And although Allakariallak normally used a gun when hunting, Flaherty encouraged him to hunt after the fashion of his recent ancestors in order to capture the way the Inuit lived before European influence. On the other hand, while Flaherty made his Inuit actors use spears instead of guns during the walrus and seal hunts, the hunting actually involved wild animals. Flaherty also exaggerated the peril to Inuit hunters with his claim, often repeated, that Allakariallak had died of starvation two years after the film was completed, whereas in fact he died at home, likely of tuberculosis
As the first nonfiction work of its scale, Nanook of the North was ground-breaking cinema. It captured an exotic culture (that is, Indigenous and considered exotic to non-Inuit peoples) in a remote location. Hailed almost unanimously by critics, the film was a box office success in the United States and abroad. In the following years, many others would try to follow in Flaherty's success with "primitive peoples" films. Nanook of the North was widely shown and praised as the first full-length, anthropological documentary in cinematographic history.
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