Plot: Documents one year in the life of “Nanook”, an Eskimo (Inuit) and his family. Describes the trading, hunting, fishing and migrations of a group barely touched by industrial technology. Nanook of the North was widely shown and praised as the first full-length, anthropological documentary in cinematographic history and is still often shown in high school social studies and college anthropology classes.
For a film as old as Nanook of the North, it might be expected that some cultural imperialism would seep into such an anthropological venture. Amazingly, this is hardly the case. This is not fully a documentary, since Robert J. Flaherty had to forcefully put in some staged elements. Nevertheless the movie still gives an interesting and detailed look into the lives of the Inuit people. We see them fighting for food, playing, building shelters, and cowering in the dark winter. All of these elements are shown without undue sentimentality. We are amazed at the lives we see because they are so different from our own, yet we realize just how human they are when they smile at us and engage us. The sequence where the igloo is built is truly remarkable, as are many of the hunting expeditions. However, just when we start to think that the life we are seeing may be perfect in its purity, we are shown the other side of their life. The bleak ending of the film forces the viewer to come to terms with his romanticized view of the intuit that the first part of the film creates. This scene has been given extra poignancy with the tragic knowledge that “Nanook” and his family perished in such a blizzard a few months after the film was released.