Nanook of the North (1922) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • In this silent predecessor to the modern documentary, film-maker Robert J. Flaherty spends one year following the lives of Nanook and his family, Inuits living in the Arctic Circle.

  • 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.

  • Nanook, an Eskimo (what is now known as an Inuit), his family, and his followers of "Itivimuits" are among the approximately three hundred nomadic people who live in an area roughly the size of England on the eastern shores of Hudson's Bay in a region called Ungava of Canada's north. Their travel is largely through kayak and other water vessels in the summer and dog sled during the winter. They have some contact with white people of "western" civilization, with whom they barter for goods at set trading posts. However, their life is primarily one of subsistence, with Nanook and the men hunting for food to keep them alive, which is not always easy. Their food sources are primarily sea related - salmon, seal and walrus - meaning that they spend most of their time along the Hudson's Bay shore, although animals such as white foxes, polar bears and deer are also prized for food and/or hide and fur. Ice buildup during the winter makes it that much more difficult to access the water, and the food underneath the water. But the harsh winter also provide certain opportunities, such as the plentiful raw material of ice and snow to construct temporary shelters, namely igloos, to protect them from the elements, and easier ways to spot water-dwelling seals.

  • This early full-length documentary looks at the life of Nanook, the Bear, an Inuit living on the shores of Hudson's Bay in Northern Quebec. He lives there with his wives, his many children and their dogs. Nanook is known as a superb fisherman and hunter and the search for food is a constant struggle. In the springtime, Nanook and his family travel by kayak to the trading post where he trades the many furs he has collected over the winter. The film shows Nanook and others hunting and fishing and working together during a walrus hunt. In the winter, Nanook manages to build an igloo in less than an hour. The climate is harsh however and the Inuit are forever battling the elements.


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