Robert J. Flaherty

Scen: Robert J. Flaherty, Frances H. Flaherty. F.: Robert J. Flaherty. M.: Charles Gelb. Int.: Allakariallak (Nanook), Alice Nevalinga (Nyla), Cunayou (la figlia), Allegoo (il figlio). Prod.: Robert J. Flaherty per Revillon Frères. 35mm. L.: 1690 m. 20 f/s. Bn (con parti imbibite / with tinted sections).

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

“In the end, it is all a question of human relationships”

On 11 June 1922, the audience of the Capitol Theatre in New York witnessed the ‘reality of life’ being transformed in a new art form: “the creative treatment of actuality,” as John Grierson would later call it. By focusing on common people, an Inuit hunter and his family, their simple activities and dramatic struggles, Nanook of the North managed to make its ethnocentric audience identify with Indigenous people. This was possible not only because of the ingenious editing of drama and intertitles, but also because of the unprecedented collaboration behind its making.

Robert J. Flaherty always carried a projector to show the rushes to the Inuit who gave feedback and suggested what to film – “In the long evenings around the hut’s crackling stove my Eskimos and I talked and speculated as to what scenes could be made.” Moreover, the Inuit were not only acting and collaborating in the making of the story, but they were also operating cameras, fixing gear, and developing the film on the spot. Such remarkable collaboration was inspired by the conditions of filming on location and by the attributes of Inuit culture. This process resembles what anthropologists now call “participatory method”. Consequentially, despite its flaws and stereotypes, Nanook is still regarded with great pride and importance within Inuit culture. Particularly, by the descendants of Allakarialak (Nanook), Maggie Nujarlutuk (Nyla, Nanook’s fictional wife and the real mother of Josephie, the Inuit son fathered by Flaherty) and the other Inuit of Port Harrison, now the Inuit community of Inukjuak. Inuit culture certainly had a great influence on Flaherty’s filmmaking, which might explain why some of the topics identifiable in Nanook, such as the centrality of the landscape and the family as well as the act of passing knowledge, also recur in the films of Inuit director Zacharias Kunuk.

The centenary of Nanook of the North calls us to acknowledge not only its relevance for the history of cinema but equally to celebrate Inuit culture and recognise the importance of its contribution to both the formation of Robert Flaherty’s own artistic vision and the making of the “big aggie”.

Francesco Rufini


Copy From

Restored by MoMA with funding provided by The Celeste Bartos Fund for Film Preservation at Cinetech, Film Technology & Cinema Arts laboratory, from multiple nitrate prints preserved at MoMA