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Nanook of the North
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Nanook of the North is a 1922 documentary -- considered by many to be the first -- and is a chronicle of an Inuit family's struggles to survive in harsh Arctic conditions. As such, there are many scenes where Nanook and other hunters are shown killing animals like seals, foxes, walruses, and fish. These killings may be too graphic for younger viewers. Note: Not everyone feels the movie accurately depicts the Inuit people. Some claim that scenes have been staged.
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What's the story?
NANOOK OF THE NORTH is a 1922 documentary film about a gregarious Inuit named Nanook who lives with his family in the Arctic, north of Canada near Hudson Bay. The film follows Nanook through his daily struggles to find food and shelter. Nanook's methods of hunting, fishing, and building igloos are documented, as are his interactions with white traders, who provide Nanook with his first experience hearing a record player. A silent film chronicling "typical" days that are anything but typical -- for Nanook and his family and also for viewers who made the film an international sensation -- Nanook of the North is also a record of a unique culture on the verge of becoming Westernized.
Is it any good?
This film creates fascinating comparisons and contrasts between Nanook's culture and our own. As the first documentary, Robert J. Flaherty's Nanook of the North created the template for how future documentaries would be made -- when to let the camera tell the story, when to step in to provide context or narrative explanation, how lives are lived, how action is performed. Even in the midst of bitter struggles of life and death, Nanook appears so much happier than people who don't share the same struggles.
The hunting scenes -- where animals are shown speared, killed, skinned, and eaten -- may be too graphic for younger viewers, but for those interested in the history of documentary film, and and how a filmmaker's love of a culture and those who live and die in it is conveyed, Nanook of the North is a must-see.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how cultural similarities and differences are presented in the film. Can you relate to any of the family's experiences? Since this is a silent film, how is the text used to explain background, to set scenes, to explain what Nanook is doing and why?
What challenges and difficulties do you think the director, Robert J. Flaherty, faced as he spent a year filming the daily lives of Nanook and his family?
Since this is considered to be the first documentary film, what similarities and differences do you see between this and other documentaries you have seen?
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