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Life Among the Eskimos

The Difficulties and Hardships of the Arctic. How Motion Pictures Were Secured of Nanook of the North and
His Hardy and Generous People
By Robert J. Flaherty, F.R.G.S. (1922)

Originally appeared as Robert J. Flaherty, "Life Among the Eskimos," World's Work, October 1922, pages

Thirty or more years ago the interior of Northern Ungava teemed with bands of barren ground caribou. They
numbered thousands.

Now, however, only a few, in straggling bands, of twenty or less, are seen. A caribou kill of even a half dozen
after a long summer's trip into the interior is an event among the Eskimo. Skins for clothing consequently are
rare. The Cape Dufferin people are the poorest clad I have ever seen. The clothing of the persons I chose for
the film was no exception, so I cast around for means of getting skins with which to make new and better
costumes. No skins were to be had. Those few fortunates who had new deerskin clothing refused for anything
I might have in exchange to let it go. I did secure for my own wear a much worn koolitah (hooded coat) and
an old pair of deerskin trousers, but the present in exchange was a brand-new Winchester and two hundred

Along about freeze-up time, one Nevalingha came into the post to trade, and inadvertently I heard that he and
his hunting companion had made a deer kill in the far interior during the summer, so far, however, from the
coast that the had had to cache the skins and horns expecting to bring them down by sledge in winter. I
approached Nevalingha in the hope of securing the skins, but he explained that all of them were promised,
some to his father, some to friends, some to his brother and so on. He couldn't break his promises and at any
rate they all needed them badly. As well did I need them, and I made extravagant bids, but all that I had, said
he, could not compensate for the lack of warm winter clothing. However, those to whom he was to have given
skins were prevailed upon to release him from his promises. I was to give him food and ammunition and
walrus meat for his dogs and upon his return with the skins was to pay him as much as if they were all white
foxes. Nevalingha, the ne'er-do-well, became prospectively, a rich man. He had never stood high in the
factor's favor- "Hell for eatin' and not much for foxes," the latter said. He and his companion were gone three
weeks into a country in which the Eskimos had never hunted foxes before. They returned with not only the
twenty-two deer skins, but to the amazement of the factor, with the prime pelts of forty-three foxes- to one of
these Eskimos a fabulous fortune.

Winter had hardly set in before various Eskimos from north and south along the seaboard came sledging into
the post. All of them complained of the hard winter- no seals. The sea ice, said they, was frozen for miles and
miles, farther out than in any other year they could remember. There had been a lapse of days in the constant
winter winds and the movement and the milling of the ice fields were stilled and, like magic, seal hunting
lanes and tidal pools were frozen fast. Until heavy gales again should blow, the doors of their hunting grounds
were closed. Some spoke of the long and fruitless vigils, day by day and through the nights, over the
breathing holes of seal: some, without seal oil for their lamps, of the darkness of the igloos. They spoke even
of madness that comes from starvation, and in distress of mind sought advice as to what they should do with a
madman who terrorized and paralyzed the whole village, threatening the safety of women and children and
keeping the men from their hunting. There were tales of bear, themselves hungry for the seal upon which they
live, prowling about the encampments at night. One old couple asleep in their igloo had been wakened by the
snow of the igloo dome falling on their faces, to see by the feeble lamp light the mask of a bear sniffing and
growling as he moved his head to and fro- sniffing the good seal oil smell of lamp and clothing. With ready
wit the old woman had seized her trimming stick, lighted it, and holding it to the bear's nose had kept the
beast at bay while her husband crawled outside for his harpoon!


One of the great problems in the making of the film was the construction of an Igloo large enough for the
filming of interior scenes. The average Eskimo igloo, about twelve feet in diameter, was much too small. On
the dimensions I laid out for them, a diameter of twenty five feet, Nanook and his companions started in to
build the biggest igloo of their lives. For two days they worked, the women and children helping them. Then
came the hard part- to cut insets for five large slab-ice windows without weakening the dome. They had
hardly begun when the dome fell in pieces to the ground. "Never mind," said Nanook, " I can do it next time."
For two days more they worked, but again with the same result; as soon as they began setting in the ice
windows their structure fell to the around. It was a huge joke this time, and holding their sides they laughed
their misfortune away. Again Nanook began on the "big aggie igloo," but this time the women and children
hauled barrels of water on sledges from the water hole and iced the walls as fast as they went up. Finally, the
igloo was finished and they stood eyeing it as satisfied as so many children completing a house of blocks. The
light from the ice windows proved inadequate, however, and when the interiors were finally filmed the dome's
half just over the camera had to be cut away, so Nanook and his family went naked to bed and naked to rise
with all the cold of out-of-doors pouring in.


The mechanical skill of the Eskimo is in many ways remarkable and has more than once stood me in good
stead. To one of my men I deputed the care of my cameras. Bringing them from the cold outside into contact
with the warm air of the base often frosted them inside and out which necessitated taking them apart and
carefully drying them piece by piece. With the motion picture cameras there was no difficulty, but with my
graflex I found to my sorrow such a complication of parts that I could not get it together again. For several
days its in'ards lay strewn on my work table. "Harry Lauder" finally volunteered for the task of putting them
together, and through a long evening before a flickering candle and with a crowd of Eskimos around
ejaculation their "Ais" and "Ahs," he managed to succeed where I had failed.

Never shall I forget his proffered ministrations to an ulcerated tooth. After witnessing the inadequacy of all
the resources of my medicine kit and the disastrous failure an attempt to pull, he came to me, perfectly right in
reasoning and intention, with a tiny drill which he had laboriously fashioned out of a ten penny nail and
mounted in a carpenter's brace!

That misunderstandings should arise at times between myself and the Eskimos was, I suppose, inevitable.
They were due for the most part to my own inability to comprehend exactly what they meant to say and under
ordinary circumstances were soon explained away. Only once under peculiar stress did misunderstanding
assume serious proportions. This was with one Auviuk who was, for an Eskimo, of an unusually highstrung
and nervous temperament, and for that very reason, I might add, the better suited to fill one of the dramatic
roles for which I had cast him. The following scene, however, was not of my staging. It was on our return
from the bear hunting expedition which I have chronicled in a former article. For three days we had been
without oil- three days of subsisting on cold food and no tea- when we came to a cache and a gallon of the
precious fuel, and the almost unbearable tension of numb hunger was relieved. The following day, travelling
with difficulty in the face of a bitterly cold drifter, we had halted to disentangle the snarled traces of the team,
and Auviuk called to me saying that the oil was gone, had been left behind. Only then did I realize with a
poignancy that went through me like a stab all that that oil meant. I could not contain myself. "Harry Lauder"
and his companion, scenting trouble, discreetly withdrew, one ahead and one behind, and were lost in a blue
of drift. Auviuk had drawn his snow knife from his belt and now brandishing it in front of me was pouring out
a lava flow in Eskimo. The harpoons lay lashed in front of me on the sledge, and I was debating my chances
of seizing one in time when it dawned upon me that Auviuk's rather startling pantomime was not intended
offensively. Out of the drift at this juncture came "Harry Lauder" holding aloft the lost article- an old tin can I
had purposely discarded! The incident was closed that night over a love feast of dried apples with plenty of
sugar, well cooked and warm.

Spring in the North is a laggard, long in coming. It was not until the last week in May that two lone honking
geese flying low over the post brought the natives running from their tents exclaiming "Awyung (spring) is
here!" By the end of June all the snow, save deep drifts in ravines and along the slopes of hills, was gone.
Arctic flowers, solid masses of purple, white, and yellow, sprang up through the tawn and russet mosses of
the plains. Flock upon flock of geese like regiments came sailing through the sky; and coveys of ptarmigan
hovered near the post and even perched upon the houses. Arctic salmon, whose sides shone like burnished
steel and silver were teeming in the mouths of the streams that tumbled into the sea, and among the islands
lying off the coast were multitudes of nesting sea pigeons and elders. Ever kayack that came paddling in was
loaded, decks over, with scores of geese, salmon, eiders, and dozens of eggs for trade. The sun went down
about eleven and rose again about two; it did not go far below the blue line of northern hills, and the glow of
it shot constantly up the sky, splashing color on each cloud bank that sailed by. Everyone now slept when he
willed; the voices of some rioting group of youngsters were always in the air.

Nanook was restless, the wanderlust again was upon him. He knew he said one day when we were making the
whale boat ready for sea, where there were many white whales that played in a little bottle-necked harbor
some three days kayacking up the coast.

We might, he continued, hopefully, get the "big aggie" (picture) there.

Ice fields still lay alone the coast, the blue-green ribbons of water lanes amongst them ever changing with the
working of the winds and tide. Came a driving nor'easter herding the floes to sea and before the day was
ended all that remained of those vast fields was a thin white line far out in the west.

Wild fowl in multitudes we encountered on the way. Under the leaning brows of great cliffs that rose three
hundred feet in air were strata of sea gulls and clouds of sea pigeons and big eiders. A weird medley were
their wild cries and screams, the re-echoing of our guns, and the deep booming of the sea.

Where we landed for sea pigeon eggs the sea pigeons swarmed like flies hardly an arm's length above us.
Waiting until they approached circling toward him, Nanook with a piece of drift wood would hurl it breast on,
bringing down there or four birds with a single throw.

With a gale from the west the ice fields again came in and, rafting high along the bare rock masses of the
coast, kept us prisoners. We went inland during the detention, goose hunting among the tundra's tiny discs of
ponds. The geese, having shed their wing feathers, were unable to fly. By running them down the men
secured them, a task, however, that with the spongy nature of the moss-carpeted ground, was sporting enough.

For two days we worked through every winding lane that opened with the tides, or hauled the boat up on to
the floes as the lanes closed in again, until a providential offshore wind finally freed us and we bowled in to a
bare rock strip of point which proved to be Nanook's "Culelulewak noona" (the white whale land).

We dared not camp too near the bottle-necked entrance to the whale ground for even from a mile away the
banging of an oar against a gunwale might frighten the whales and drive them out to sea. We camped under
the lee of a cliff a mile and a half distant, and upon the crest one or another of the men took turns as lookouts
for whale. It was two weeks to a day when a school of some twenty all told, came swinging in from sea.
Nanook leading the fleet of kayackers slowly paddled toward the Harbor's mouth. " Harry Lauder" carrying
the Akeley camera, and myself with the hand camera and film retorts walked overland to the harbor head. We
were hardly more than half way over when the lookout signalled that the whales were in. The kavackers at
their fastest speed raced for the entrance, and side by side with paddles beating gunwales and all the shouts
and yells their lungs could stand came slowly in. The deafening din threw the quarry into a panic. The whales'
ear drums, Nanook had explained, are so sensitive that sound not only frightens but hurts them. Their snow
white bodies flashed in the sun as they came up to blow or to rush around the small loop of the harbor's end
only to meet the barriers of land. Time after time they tried to break through the kayack's cordon only to be
driven back again or harpooned if they came too near. For an hour the fight kept on until five, all told, were
harpooned. With their kayacks hitched in line, Nanook and his companions spent the remainder of the day
towing in the kill and hauling them out on shore. Two days were consumed in cutting up the kill and
apportioning it, and then with the whale boat full of meat which Nanook was taking as presents to his people
at the post, we left for the south, all the stock of film I carried exposed on Nanook's last "big aggie."

When August came we began speculating as to when the little schooner with its mails from home and news of
the busy world would come. The factor and I thumbed through the post diaries for years back for dates of past
arrivals and, averaging them up, we each made a bet upon the date we thought would win. We kept a lookout
almost constantly, on the hill, and offered a prize, a sack of sea biscuit, to him who first should see her sails.

She arrived at last, and was received enthusiastically by every person and every dog about the trading post.
My belongings, which long since had been at least partially packed in expectation of departure, were taken
aboard. I looked once more about the cramped quarters that I had occupied for a year at the trading post, and
finally followed my baggage on to the schooner.

Nanook and his companions came aboard for a last farewell. When the ship headed out to sea, reluctantly they
took leave; but off either side they followed in their kayacks until the ship, gathering speed, slowly drew
away. I saw them turn at last, still waving as they made in toward shore to the little spots of tawny tents
which, standing out in the vastness of dreary wastes of shore, are all that they call home.

How I Filmed Nanook of the
Adventures with the Eskimos to Get Pictures of Their Home Life and Their Battles with Nature to Get Food.
The Walrus Fight.
By Robert J. Flaherty, F.R.G.S. (1922)

Originally appeared as Robert J. Flaherty, "How I Filmed 'Nanook of the North'," World's Work, October
1922, pages 632-640.

In August 1910, Sir William MacKenzie whose transcontinental railway, the Canadian Northern, was then in
the initial stages of construction, commissioned the writer to undertake an expedition to the East Coast of
Hudson Bay to examine deposits of certain islands upon which iron ore were supposed to be located.

All told I made four expeditions on Sir William's behalf, during a period of six years, along the East Coast of
Hudson Bay, through the barren lands of the hitherto unexplored peninsula of Ungava, along the west coast of
Ungava Bay and along the southern coast of Baffin Land. This work culminated in the discovery of the
Belcher Island archipelago in Hudson Bay -a land mass which occupies 5,000 square miles- upon this land
mass were discovered extensive deposits of iron ore but all of too low a grade, however, to be of economic
importance. As a part of my exploration equipment, on these expeditions, a motion-picture outfit was
included. It was hoped to secure films of the North and Eskimo life, which might prove to be of enough value
to help in some way to defray some of the costs of the explorations. While wintering in Baffin Land during
1913-14 films of the country and the natives were made as was also done on the succeeding expedition to the
Belcher Islands. The film, in all, about 30,000 feet, was brought out safely, at the conclusion of the
explorations, to Toronto, where, while editing the material, I had the misfortune of losing it all by fire.
Though it seemed to be a tragedy at the time, I am not sure but what it was a bit of fortune that it did burn, for
it was amateurish enough.

My interest in films, from then on, grew.

New forms of travel film were coming out and the Johnson South Sea Island film particularly seemed to me to
be an earnest of what might be done in the North. I began to believe that a good film depicting the Eskimo
and his fight for existence in the dramatically barren North might be well worth while. To make a long story
short, I decided to go north again- this time wholly for the purpose of making films.

Mr. John Revillon and Captain Thierry Mallet of Revillon Freres became interested and decided to finance
my project. It proved to be a happy arrangement, for among the Revillon Freres' vast system of fur posts
which lie scattered through northern Canada I was enabled to use one of these posts as the nucleus for my
work. This post was on Cape Dufferin on northeastern Hudson Bay and about 800 miles north of the rail
frontier in northern Ontario. The journey thither began on the eighteenth of June, 1920. With Indians by
canoe, I followed the Moose River to Moose Factory on James Bay. From thence northward a small schooner
was taken to my destination where I arrived in the middle of August. The resources of the Revillon Freres fur
trade post at Cape Dufferin were at my disposal. One of the two living quarters which comprised the Post was
mine as living quarters and film laboratory combined.

My equipment included 75,000 feet of film, a Haulberg electric light plant and projector and two Akeley
cameras and a printing machine so that I could make prints of film as it was exposed and project the pictures
on the screen so that thereby the Eskimo would be able to see and understand wherever mistakes were made.

Of the Eskimo who were known to the Post, a dozen all told I selected for the film. Of these, Nanook, a
character famous in the country, was my chief man. Besides him and much to his approval, I selected three
younger men as helpers. This also meant their wives and families, dogs to the number of about twenty-five,
their sledges, kayacks, and hunting impedimenta.

As luck would have it, the first film to be made was the walrus hunt. From Nanook, I first heard of the
"Walrus Island" which is a small island far out at sea and inaccessible to the Eskimo during the open water
season since it is far out enough so as not to be seen from land.

On the island's south end, a surf-bound beach, there were, in summer, Nanook said, many walrus, judging
from signs that had been seen by a winter sealing crowd of Eskimo who, caught by a break up of the ice, had
been forced to live the until late spring, when, by building an umiak of driftwood and sealskins and by
digging out the open water lands of ice which had not yet cleared from the coast, they succeeded in getting on
to the mainland. Nanook was very keen about my going, for, as he said, "It is many moons since I have
hunted the summer walrus."

When I had decided upon taking the trip the whole country-side was interested. There was no lack of
applicants for the trip. Everyone gave me some particular reason why he should be included in the expedition.
With an open-seas boat twenty-five feet long rigged with a leg -o'-mutton sail we started, a throng of Eskimo,
their wives, children and dogs assembled on the beach to see us off.

A few miles from the Post we reached the open sea when for three days we waited on the coast for easy
weather in order to undertake the crossing. We finally reached the island one day at nightfall, and landed on
what was nothing but a low waste of bed rock and boulders a mile and a half long and the whole of its
shoreland ringed with booming surf. Around the luxury of a driftwood fire (driftwood is rare on the mainland)
we lounged far into the night, speculating mainly on what chances there might be for walrus. As luck would
have it just as we were turning in, from Nanook suddenly came an exclamation "Iviuk! Iviuk!" and the bark of
a school of walrus resounded through the air. When early the next morning we went over, we found much to
our disappointment that the walrus herd had gone into the sea again but presently one after another and near
the shore the heads of a big school of walrus shot up above the sea, their wicked tusks gleaming in the sun. As
long as they were in the water no films could be made and we returned again to the camp. For the next two
days we made almost hourly trips to that beach before finally we found them- a herd of twenty- asleep and
basking in the sand on the shore. Most fortunately, they lay at a point where in approaching, we could be
screened from their view by a slight rise in the ground. Behind the rise, I mounted the camera and Nanook,
stringing his harpoon, began slowly snaking over the crest. From the crest to where they lay was less than
fifty feet and until Nanook crawled to within half that distance toward them none took any alarm. For the rest
of the way, whenever the sentinel of the herd slowly raised his head to look around, Nanook lay motionless on
the ground. Then when his head drooped in sleep, once more Nanook wormed his way slowly on. I might
mention here that the walrus has little range of vision on land. For protection he depends upon his nose and so
long as the wind is favorable one can stalk right in to them. When almost right in amongst them, Nanook
picked out the biggest bull, rose quickly and with all his strength landed his harpoon. The wounded bull,
bellowing in rage, his enormous bulk diving and thrashing the sea (he weighed more than 2,000 pounds), the
yells of the men straining for their lives in their attempt to hold him, the battle cry of the herd that hovered
near, the wounded bull's mate which swam in, locked tusks, in an attempt to rescue- was the greatest fight I
have ever seen. For a long time it was nip and tuck- repeatedly the crew called to me to use the gun- but the
camera crank was my only interest then and I pretended not to understand. Finally Nanook worked the quarry
toward the surf where he was pounded by the heavy seas and unable to get a purchase in the water. For at
least twenty minutes that tug-o'-war kept on. I say twenty minutes advisedly for I ground out 1,200 feet of

Our boat, laden with walrus meat and ivory- it was a happy crew that took me back to the Post, where Nanook
and his fellows were hailed with much acclaim. I lost no time in developing and printing the film. That walrus
fight was the first film these Eskimo had ever seen and, in the language of the trade, it was a "knock-out."

The audience- they thronged the post kitchen to the point of suffocation, completely forgot the picture- to
them the walrus was real and living. The women and children in their high shrill voices joined with the men in
shouting admonitions, warnings and advice to Nanook and his crew as the picture unfolded on the screen. The
fame of that picture spread through all the country. And all through the year that I remained there every
family who came wandering into the Post begged of me that they be shown the "Iviuk Aggie."

After this it did not take my Eskimo long to see the practical side of films and they soon abandoned their
former attitude of laughter and good-natured ridicule toward the Angercak, i.e., the White Master who wanted
pictures of them- the commonest objects in all the world! From that time on they were all with me. When in
December the snow lay heavy on the ground the Eskimo abandoned their topecks of sealskin and the village
of snow igloos sprung up around my wintering post. They snow-walled my little hut up to the eves with thick
blocks of snow. It was as thick walled as a fortress. My kitchen was their rendezvous- there was always a
five-gallon pail of tea steeping on the stove and sea biscuit in the barrel. My little gramophone, too, was
common property. Caruso, Farrar, Ricardo-Martin, McCormick served their turns with Harry Lauder, Al
Jolson and Jazz King orchestras. Caruso in the Pagliacci prologue with its tragic ending was to them the most
comic record of the lot. It sent them into peals of laughter and to rolling on the floor.

The difficulties of film development and printing during the winter were many. That convenience of
civilization which I most missed was running water. For instance, in the film washing, three barrels of water
for every hundred feet was required. The water hole, then eight feet of ice, had to be kept open all winter long
and water clotted with particles of ice had to be taken, a barrel at a time, from a distance of more than a
quarter of a mile away. When I mention that over 50,000 feet of film was developed over the winter with no
assistance save from my Eskimo and at the slow rate of eight hundred feet a day one can understand
somewhat the amount of time and labor involved.

The walrus hunt having proved so successful Nanook aspired to bigger things. The first of the bigger things
was to be a bear hunt at Cape Sir Thomas Smith which lay some two hundred miles northward of us. "Here,"
said Nanook, "is where the she-bear den in the winter. I know, for I have hunted them there, and it seems to
me that there we might get the big, big aggle (picture)."

He went on to describe how in early December the she-bear dens in huge drift banks of snow. There is
nothing to mark the den save the tiny vent or air hole which is melted open by the animal's body heat. He
went on with a warning that one should not walk there for one would fall in, in which case the she-bear might
be angry! His companions would remain at either side of me, rifles in hand, whilst I filmed (he was going to
make sure of my safety in the affair at least). He, with his snow knife, would open up the den block by block.
The dogs, in the meantime, would all be unleashed and like a circle of wolves would gather around him
howling to the skies. Mrs. Bear's den door opened, Nanook, with nothing but his harpoon, would be poised
and waiting.

The dogs baiting the quarry- some of them with her lightning paws the bear would send hurtling through the
air- Nanook dancing here and there (he pantomimed the scene on my cabin floor using my fiddle bow for
harpoon) waiting to dart in for a close-up throw- this he felt sure, would be a big, big picture, (aggie
peerualluk). I agreed with him.

After two weeks' preparation, we started. Nanook with three male companions, two sledges heavily laden, and
two 12-dog teams. My food outfit comprised one hundred pounds of pork and beans which had been cooked
in huge kettles at my post and then put into a canvas bag and frozen. These beans chopped out with an axe
from the frozen mass along with dried fruit, sea biscuit, and tea comprised my food supply.

Nanook and his companions' diet was seal and walrus augmented by tea and sugar from my supply and, most
important of all, tobacco, that most valued of the white man's treasure.

We departed on a bitterly cold day- the 17th day of January- every profile of the landscape blurred with
drifting snow. For two days we made good progress for the travelling ground was hard and well packed by the
wind. After that time, however, a heavy gale with falling snow wrecked our good going. Day after day we
slowly made our way along. Ten miles or less was an average day's travel. We had hoped to cover the 200
miles to Cape Smith in eight days but, when twelve days had elapsed, found we were only half way. We were
discouraged, the dogs all but worn out, and to make matters worse the supply of seal and dog food was near
the point of exhaustion.

The low coast line off which we travelled for days on end- was the confusing mirage hanging in the sky, so
that Nanook could not locate himself and our position in relation to Cape Smith. Constantly as we travelled
along in that monotony of days, our nearness to Cape Smith became the subject uppermost in our minds.
"How near are we?" was the hourly question that became the plague of poor Nanook's existence. The few
times he tried to predict, he was invariably wrong. Finally, we had travelled to a point where the Cape,
Nanook was sure, was no more than two days on, for he was certain that he had spied through the haze and
rime old hunting country of former years. Within the day, his companions found hat he again was wrong.
They could not contain their impatience and irritation. Poor Nanook became disgusted and as we continued he
kept his head averted and steadfastly refused to ever look upon that confounding mainland again.

We were on our beam ends the day we finally reached Cape Smith. Our brown leader dog, that for the last
three days we had been carrying on top of the sledge in the attempt to save her, was dying of starvation.
Nanook ended it all with his harpoon and as he held aloft the carcass said: "There is not enough left for dog

Well, anyway there were seals at the Cape, that we were sure of, and moreover we would be there within the
day, so we continued cheerfully enough. The great land mass of the Cape rising a sheer 1,800 feet stood out
boldly before us. By nightfall we reached our treasure land of bear and seals and plenty. We halted before the
rise of an old camp ground of Nanook's, and, abandoning sledge and dogs, climbed eagerly to a vantage for
the welcome sight of the seal grounds. We gazed there a moment or so before we realized that the seal ground
we looked out upon was like all the barren ground we had travelled- a solid white field and not a seal-hunting
lane of open water anywhere. We forgot about bear hunting; for two and half weeks we tried for seals
wandering from day to day along the broken ice foot of the Cape. In that interval two small seals were killed
and they were just enough to keep the dogs alive. For four days, at one time, we had no seal oil and our igloo
was in darkness. The dogs were utterly weak and slept in the igloo tunnel. Whenever I had to crawl out of
doors I would have to lift them to one side like sacks of flour for they were too weak and indifferent to move
away. The irony of it all was that bears there were everywhere; four of them had passed within a thousand feet
of our igloo one night but the dogs were too weak to bay them or bring them to a stand. My own food supply
was nearing its fag ends. For days past I had been sharing it with the men.

I will never forget one bitter morning when Nanook and his men were starting off for a hunting day on the ice
fields at sea. I suddenly discovered that none of them had touched my food at breakfast time. When I
remonstrated with Nanook he answered that he was afraid I might be short!

Our luck turned that day at nightfall, however, when Nanook crawled into the igloo wearing a smile from ear
to ear, and shouting the welcomed words "Ojuk! Ojuk!" (the big seal). He had killed a big seal that was "very,
very large" and enough for us and dogs for all the long trail south to home again.

What a feast those men had through that memorable night! When it was over, said Nanook in deep content,
"Now we are strong again and warm. The white man's food has made us much too weak and cold." The flesh
of seal is certainly warmth giving to the greatest degree. When I awakened the next morning all of them were
still asleep, their bodies were covered with hoar frost and vapor lay floating over them in the cold igloo air.

Though the problem of our food supply was now solved we were still not able to travel, for the dogs needed
feeding up. During this interval we hunted along the gigantic flanks of the cape for signs of bear dens. Tracks
there were everywhere, but of dens only one and that one had been abandoned. Had we had the time to spare
it would have been only a matter of days before we would have found one, but I had a great amount of filming
to do at my winter post and more time could not be spared, so reluctantly enough we left the Cape and started
off on the down trail for home.

We arrived there on the tenth day of March and so ended the six hundred miles and fifty-five days of our
Nanook's "big picture" journey. But it was not all loss: I was richer by a fuller knowledge of the fine qualities
of my sterling friends, the Eskimos.

Robert J. Flaherty, "How I Filmed 'Nanook of the North'," World's Work, October 1922, pages 632-640.
The Best Moving Pictures of 1922-23
Nanook of the North

By Robert E. Sherwood (1923)

Produced by Revillon Freres.-Directed and photographed by Robert J. Flaherty, F.R.G.S.-Distributed by
Pathe.-Released June 11th, 1922.

Originally appeared as Robert E. Sherwood, "Nanook of the North," in The Best Moving Pictures of 1922-23,
Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1923, pages 3-8.


There have been many fine travel pictures, many gorgeous "scenics," but there has been only one that
deserves to be called great. That one is Nanook of the North. It stands alone, literally in a class by itself.
Indeed, no list of the best pictures, of this year or of all the years in the brief history of the movies, could be
considered complete without it.

The potential value of the movies as an educational medium is frequently stressed by men of prominence and
triteness; and as a result, the word "educational" in connection with a motion picture has become almost
synonymous with dullness, dryness and boredom.

The screen is no blackboard, and the prime test of every film that is projected on its surface is that it shall be
interesting to the spectator. It may be teeming with genuine instructive value, it may contain what is generally
called a "message," but if it fails to hold the audience's attention, the value and the message will be lost.

Robert J. Flaherty realized this when he produced Nanook of the North. He wanted to make a picture of
Eskimo life (and, to the average mind, there is no character that is colder or less enthralling than an Eskimo),
and be wanted to record the tremendous vitality, the relentless force, of the Arctic. He knew that there was
good material here, but he also knew that this material would be worthless unless he presented it in an
interesting way. He appreciated the fact that mere photographs of Eskimos in their various daily activities
would be hopelessly dull if he treated his subject as instruction instead of as drama.

The backbone of every motion picture is the continuity- and by this I do not mean the plot. Nanook of the
North had no plot whatsoever, and struggled along very well without it, but it did have continuity. The
arrangement of scenes was sound and logical and consistent.

Mr. Flaherty selected one character, Nanook himself, to serve as the protagonist of his drama. Nanook was the
center of all the action, and upon him was the camera focused. In this way Mr. Flaherty achieved the personal
touch. Another producer, attempting to do the same thing, would have been content to photograph A Native
Spearing Fish or Another Native Building His Igloo. Moreover, he would have kept himself in the
foreground, as is the way of all travelogue rollers. Mr. Flaherty made Nanook his hero- and a fine, stalwart
hero he was.

Nanook of the North, however, was not all Nanook. There was a co-star in the title role, and that was the
North. The North was the villain of the piece, the dread force against which Nanook and his kind must
continually battle. So Mr. Flaherty showed us Nanook, fighting sturdily to obtain food, and warmth and
shelter, and he showed us the North hitting back with its gales, its blizzards and its terrible, bitter cold.

Here was drama, rendered far more vital than any trumped-up drama could ever be by the fact that it was all
real. Nanook was no playboy, enacting a part which would be forgotten as soon as the greasepaint had been
rubbed off; he was himself an Eskimo, struggling to survive. The North was no mechanical affair of wind
machines and paper snow; it was the North, cruel and incredibly strong.

The production of this remarkable picture was no light task. Mr. Flaherty had to spend years with the Eskimos
so that he could learn to understand them. Otherwise, he could not have made a faithful reflection of their
emotions, their philosophy and their endless privations. He had to select from among them those who were
best qualified to tell the story of their race. He had to do his photography, his developing and his printing
under terribly adverse conditions. He had no studio, no artificial lights and only the crudest of laboratories.

In the preface to this book, I say that the motion picture represents the combined talents of hundreds,
sometimes thousands, of different people. But Nanook of the North is the notable exception to that rule; it was
essentially a one-man job.

Of the difficulties which confronted him in producing Nanook of the North, Mr. Flaherty writes as follows:

"The film Nanook of the North is a by-product- if I may use the term- of a long series of explorations in the
north which I carried on in behalf of Sir William Mackenzie from 1910 to 1916. Much of the exploration was
done with Eskimos. I have been on long journeys for months at a time with only two or three Eskimos as my
companions. This experience gave me an insight into their lives and a deep regard for them.

"In 1913 I went north with a large outfit- an exploring ship with lumber and material for a wintering base and
food for eight men for two years. A motion picture outfit was incorporated. I hoped that the results from it
might help defray some of the costs of what were now beginning to be expensive explorations. I had no
preliminary motion picture experience, other than some two weeks with a motion picture camera
demonstrator just before leaving. We wintered in Baffin Land on this expedition, which was of a year and
four months' duration, and during those intervals while I was not seriously engaged in exploratory work, a
film was compiled of some of the Eskimos who lived with us. Naturally the results were indifferent, But as I
was undertaking another expedition in another part of the north I secured more negative and chemicals, with
the idea of building up this first film.

"On this expedition I wintered on the Belcher Islands, which I had re-discovered and explored. Again,
between explorations as it were, I continued with the film work and added to the first film very materially.
After a lot of hardship, which involved the loss of a launch and the wrecking of our cruising boat, we secured
a remarkable film on a small island ninety miles out at sea, of walrus hunting. This picture particularly, and
some interesting stuff of native life, together with scenes showing the dismasting of the Laddie, our exploring
ship, which owing to our condition was broken up and used for fuel, formed the nucleus of what I hoped
would be a good picture. After wintering a year on the islands, the Laddie's skipper, a Moose Factory half-
breed, and myself, finally got out to civilization along with my notes, maps and the above-mentioned film.

"I had just completed editing the film in Toronto when, through gross carelessness of my own, the negative
caught fire, and I was minus all (some thirty thousand feet of film). The editing print, however, was not
burned, and this was shown to some private groups several times, just long enough, in fact, to enable me to
realize that it was no good. I knew then that the reason I had missed out was that the whole thing was
episodic. But I did see that if I were to take a single character and make him typify the Eskimos as I had
known them so long and well, the results would be well worth while. To make a long story short, that is what
happened. I went north again, this time solely to make a film. I took with me not only motion picture cameras,
negative and developing outfit, but apparatus for producing electric light so that I could print and project my
results as they were being made; thus I could correct the faults and re-take wherever necessary, and more
particularly still, my character and his family who lived with me through the year could understand and
appreciate what I was doing.

"Though Nanook and his crowd were at first highly amused at the idea of the white man wanting to take
pictures of themselves, the most common objects in all the world, as soon as I got my projection apparatus
going and showed them some of the first results, they were completely won over. As luck would have it, the
first picture that was made was the walrus hunt, which many of the younger generation had never seen. I shall
never forget the night it was first projected, on a white cotton sheet in my wintering hut. The audience- men,
women, babes and children, squatted on the floor- completely forgot that what was unfolding before them on
the sheet was a picture. They yelled, screamed and shouted their advice where the four stalwarts were shown
in the walrus tug of war. In the language of the trade, that first picture was a knockout. From that time on they
were with me to a man. Indeed, they vied with one another to be cast in the angerooka's big aggie (picture)."

After Mr. Flaherty had completed the picture, and had brought it to New York, be encountered a new set of
problems: he ran into the movie distributors. He learned that the Eskimos were remarkably tractable as
compared with these important gentlemen who are empowered to decide what the public shall see and what it
shall not see. He had been backed on this Arctic expedition by Revillon Freres, the furriers, but Revillon
Freres could not sell his picture for him.

He took Nanook of the North to five different distributing corporations, all of which turned him down flat.
They told him that the public is not interested in Eskimos; the public wants to see people in dress suits.
Finally, he effected a deal with Pathe, and Nanook of the North was timorously submitted to the exhibitors.
One of them, Samuel Rothafel of the Capitol Theatre in New York, decided to give it a try, although he was
frankly dubious about its possibilities as a box-office attraction. The week that Nanook of the North played at
the Capitol Theatre, it did $43,000 worth of business.

It was instantly hailed by every critic in New York, and the public (which wants to see people in dress suits)
responded nobly. Nanook of the North has since proved to be a substantial if not a sensational box-office

One of the distributing companies, the Famous Players-Lasky, which elected to throw Nanook of the North
back into the cold from whence it came, has made amends in an honorable and emphatic way. Jesse L. Lasky
has sent Mr. Flaherty to Samoa to make a Polynesian Nanook. Moreover, he has made no restrictions as to
money, time or quality- so that we may expect, eventually, to see the first real representation of the
glamourous South Sea Isles on the screen.

There was a tragic sequel to Nanook of the North which did not appear in the film itself. Some time after Mr.
Flaherty departed from the Arctic with his negatives and his prints, the gallant Nanook died of starvation. The
villainous North finally won in its mortal combat, and Nanook became the first hero in movie history who has
gone down to ultimate defeat. But his soul goes marching on. His shadowy form still flickers across the
screen, to prove to distributors and other shortsighted persons that Eskimos are human beings, after all.

Picture Making in the South Seas

By Robert J. Flaherty (1923)

Originally appeared as Robert J. Flaherty, "Picture Making in the South Seas," Film Yearbook 1924, pages 9-


(Producer of Nanook of the North, who is now in Samoa making a similar picture of the South Seas for

During my first few weeks in Samoa I was disgusted. The drenching heat did not help my feeling for the
charm and spirit of the country; the natives I could only see as mobs and rabbles. The fortunes of the film
seemed low indeed. These reactions, however, were simply those of any superficial traveller hovering around
Pago Pago or Apia, the two ports of call. Only when I left the white man's settlements and settled down here
in this incredible spot, became acclimated and began to personally know the Samoans, to live amongst them,
to have them in my house, to journey with them, did my interest and enthusiasm revive. We are living in one
of the finest native villages in all Samoa. Our house is one that is leased from the sole white inhabitant, trader
David, here twenty-seven years. It stands within the shelter of the tall rocking cocoanuts. Beyond the screen
of trees and the outline of the chocolate-topped thatched fale (house of the village chiefs) is the strip of sea,
blue as blue, save for the single thin line of white which is the booming, grumbling reef (without which no
South Sea island is complete).

We have put verandas around the house to screen it from the flies. Here we have our long talks with the
village chiefs- speculations and discussions on the material and incidents for the film, gossip about the
village- and drink our bowls of kava. Adjoining the veranda looking into a clear space among the cocoanuts
stands the diminutive cabin which shelters the electric plant and projector. Farthest from it is the skeleton
frame upon which is hung the motion picture screen. Our film nights are epochs in the lives of the Samoans.
From villages for miles around they come- venerable gray-haired chiefs striding with the dignity of kings; the
oldest of old men and women, with scampering youngsters as thick as flies around them; and the singing
throngs of young men and girls, wearing flowers in their hair- until the matted ground overflows with humans
crouched eager, tense and expectant for the projector's magic eye to open. But we keep them waiting, for a
pageantry of village chiefs are waiting on the veranda, where at centre Taioa, our Samoan girl, the Mary
Pickford of our film to be, in the strictest, most punctilious ceremony, is making our bowl of kava. While this
is going on, the high chief's talking man, solemnly and with tremendous dignity arises, and resting his hand
on his cane begins to speak. Unintelligible words- a pause- then trader David translates:

"We come here tonight overjoyed to find that you are well; that your family are well; and that all that belong
to you are well. We are overjoyed to know that you have been well; that your family and all that you have
have been well." And as the chiefs gravely nod their heads the speaker goes on. Again David translates: "And
we hope that the good God will keep you and all that you have and your family well," and the chiefs' heads
nod again. Then come more and more unintelligible words. The heads around us seem to have become more
thoughtful, more solemn. The speaker warms to his subject. We turn to David, but his face, rapt, is turned
toward the speaker. We are impatient. We shuffle in our chairs. Our gaze wanders. We almost give up, when,
with a low sweeping bow, the speaker at last sits down. Eagerly we turn to David- they are overjoyed that I
am well; that my family are well; that all that I have are well; that the good God may keep me and my family
well, and all that I have well.

"The finest speaker on this side of the island," says David in an aside, "More words than any of 'em."

Suddenly Samuelo, our house-boy, shouts out a rapid fire of words. In slow measured time we clap hands,
and Taioa, stooping low, holds out the dripping bowl of kava. "Manuia!" each drinker calls, and gulps it
down. With the same punctilious ceremony (wars have been fought over the etiquette of kava drinking) from
chief to chief the cup goes round. With the last drop done we all file out to join the patient throng within the
deep gloom of the cocoanuts.

Karl, son of David, my right-hand man, shoots the projector light out upon the screen. The babble of voices
suddenly stops. There is no sound save that of the plumes of cocoanuts rocking in the night "trade." The film
comes on. In Samoan Karl calls out as best he may each title as it flashes by- which, with their Samoan slant,
vivify the picture a thousand fold. The inevitable triangle develops- the lover, the girl and the crafty villain.
Comments begin to fly. This is from Karl: "Did we ever see such a handsome man? See how he hungers for
the girl! What a dog the villain is! By lies he keeps the girl and man apart." For a long, long hour the audience
hovers between ecstacy and deep despair, but finally a crash, a thunderclap of exultation rings out upon the
night. The villain is "getting his." This from Karl as the film nears its inevitably happy end: "Watch the man
get near the girl. Ah, she smiles at him! He smiles at her. Now watch- ah, yes! see, he takes her in his arms-
and look, she likes him! Look at her face- how she loves him." And then, amid guffaws from the men, hoots
and catcalls from the youngsters and giggling from the girls: "Oh, my! If our girls were only half so kind."

Half a minute's walk through forests of mangoes and cocoanuts brings me to the laboratory which we built
deep-set among the trees. The branches of one breadfruit almost overspread it. Here is where we do most of
our film work, the drying and the printing- invariably to the accompaniment of the staring eyes of children
peeping through the doors and windows at every little thing I do, and on the alert to pick up any scrap of
paper or waste bit of film I throw away. Facing the laboratory are the great mouths of two caves which wind
underground to blind unknown ends. Into the gloomy depths of one mouth the villagers come now and then to
bathe. The mouth of the other we have boarded up and fitted with a door and laid steps within which lead in a
half-curve down to where we have placed a large platform over the cave's deep, cold, clear water. Here the
film developing tanks are set, their tops just poking through the platform, so that the cave's cold water forms a
jacket around them, I spend hours developing in the blackness of this cavern, and whilst in the feeble light of
the red lamp I watch the clock tick the minutes away, the choruses of my two Samoan helpers re-echo through
the gloom. Natives squat waiting outside the cavern's door for us to file out with, our dripping racks of film.
They peer over our shoulders as we hold the frame up for inspection against the light.

It has been no easy task to get the right characters for the film. Like the Eskimo the photographable types are
few. Taioa, the taupo (village virgin) of Sasina, was my first find. Here should follow the inevitable picture-
raven hair, lips of coral, orbs (meaning eyes), etc. etc. But to you, not knowing the fine type of Polynesian,
such a passage at words would mean nothing. I can only say that when, after a feast of pigs, taro, breadfruit,
wild pigeons, mangoes and yams, to the accompaniment of siva sivas and ta'alolos hours and hours long, I
bargained for and bought her from the proud and haughty, albeit canny, chiefs of Sasina, and she and her
handmaid came up the palm-lined trail to Safune, the old women here told her between their teeth that they
would see that she was killed by dawn.

Competition as to who shall be in the white man's film is never-ending. Countless little imps of children in
shapes and sizes and faces as various as a bag of mixed candy come hovering around our veranda and with
utter artlessness assume poses or dance siva sivas or bring us a lizard or a bird or some strange flower, all for
the purpose of attracting our attention- we might use them in the film.

One night Malai ("Flying Fox"), highest of all the chiefs, brought along, with his talking man, his counsellors
and his two old women (always the most deadly of the tribe), his taupo, and before the glinting eyes of Taioa
assured me how much more beautiful his taupo was. Whereupon, imperiously he waved his hand, his men
struck up a song and his taupo bounded up and danced- not before, but at me- and the old cats of women who
danced accompanying her at either side did not hesitate to put their bids on their taupo's behalf into words: "Is
she not most wonderful? When does one over see such dancing?" and all the most alluring phrases they could
muster. Taioa, quiescent up to now, bounded up as soon as their siva was done and danced as she had never
danced before. But Malai, his talking man, his counsellors and the old women, angry, turned their gaze away.
Only a supper and good cigars which my wise house-boy thrust forward and my promise to make a separate
film in which appeared no women save the taupo of the great Malai prevented a breach there and then.

All of this was not for gain, but for nothing more than to advance the glory of Malai's beloved town. How
much that prestige means to the Samoans you might gather from the following. There were, as is the custom,
ceremonies without end when first we came- sivas by the young men, the women, the old women and the
children, ta'alolos by the chiefs themselves and a great feast of wild fowl, huge wild pigs, roasted on bananas,
taros, yams, mangoes and from the reef baked fishes in all the vivid colors of the rainbow- all of this to the
accompaniment of speeches without end- the freedom of their town was ours; we were under their protection.
They adopted us as their children, and all that they had, could say or do, was ours.

Now Annie, nurse, all the way with us from New York, has red hair- glorious red hair. The Samoans spend
years bleaching their head with coral lime in order to turn it the dull color of rust- the nearest they can
approach to such a crown as Annie wears. So Annie "Mumu" they call her- has become famous the island
round. One day as she and Haioa and the children strolled off to swim she was brought up with a start by
someone tugging her hair, and before she could turn a Samoan stepped before her. By signs and gestures he
indicated his regard, tapped her shoulder, then tapped his- he was the right man for her. But Annie (Irish)
gave him such a lashing with her tongue that, abashed, he slunk away. When we heard the story naturally we
were indignant. To Malai a complaint was made. We had almost forgotten the incident, however, when at
dusk a messenger flew up with a note from Mr. David: "Do not come out on the veranda. Stay indoors until I
come." He relieved the tension, however, by coming himself in a moment more, saying the chiefs were
coming, all of them to beg our pardon. We glimpsed a procession walking funereally through the gloom
toward us, heads bowed low, half shielded with branches of palm. "Let them come, let them come," said
David, "Do not show yourselves. Keep them waiting- it is fa'a Samoa (the custom)."

The procession crouched in the open space before the veranda, their heads bowed toward the ground, the palm
branches still held over them. Before them all a solitary figure, shielded by the folds of a priceless mat, knelt
on the ground. Without sound or movement they awaited the interval of our displeasure. Then Tugaga,
David's spokesman, spoke up. Three times he asked them why they came, expressing his great surprise at the
manner of their coming, urging them to speak, because it grieved us to see them so. Thereupon said Maumea
Levu, Flying Fox's talking man: "Oh, Tugaga, let us live! Let us live!" Such was the beginning of the
ceremony, whereupon the chiefs took it upon themselves to atone for the fault of one of their number who had
brought disgrace upon them all and upon the good name of their beloved town. Their spokesman told of how
we had to come from America, the far far country- we had come to Safune because Safune had been well
spoken of to us- how they, the chiefs, had given us the highest chief names and had taken us under their
protection- and now what a wretched mess it all was, the good name of Saftme wrecked forever! Could we
forget? Could we forgive them? There were tears in the eyes of David's spokesman when he replied in our
behalf, and as he concluded, the kneeling form before us suddenly came to life, and bowing low presented us
with the priceless mat, an heirloom of the offender's family, generations old.

It was quiet in Safune the following day. Not a chief or talking man could we see. Said I to David: "Good
heavens, are they in mourning still?" "Hell, no," replied he, "They are all in the offender's fale, feasting,
cramming, stuffing themselves on all the precious fowls and pigs and bananas and taros and yams the poor
devil owns."

Malai, the "Flying Fox," it is who has been chosen for my principal film character. He, the great chief of
Safune, is the head of one of the oldest chief families of all Savaii. He is one of the big figures in Samoa and
one of the few great hunters of the sea. We live side by side. My house is his house; his house is mine. There
are no journeys save the ones he leads; and through him the services of every one of his townsmen are always
at my call.

The Handling of Motion Picture Film Under Various Climatic Conditions

By Robert J. Flaherty (1926)

Originally appeared as Robert J. Flaherty, "The Handling of Motion Picture Film Under Various Climatic
Conditions," Transactions of Society of Motion Picture Engineers, No. 26, meeting of May 3-6, 1926, pages


It has been suggested that the Society of Motion Picture Engineers might be interested in my experiences in
handling motion picture film under various climatic conditions; namely, those I encountered during the time I
spent in the North making Nanook of the North and during the past two years making Moana in the South
Seas. We shall not have proceeded very far with this paper before you will understand that my experiences are
those of one who has had no technical training and whose entire experience has been gained outside of the
laboratories and studios of the motion picture industry. However, it is to be hoped that that which follows may
to some extent be illuminating.

From the year 1910 to 1916, I carried on geological explorations in the eastern sub-Arctic, and during the
latter half of these expeditions I became interested (although only as an amateur) in motion picture films,
taking as a minor part of my exploratory work such subjects as came within the range of my camera. Needless
to say, they were not of any importance or value. When I decided to make Nanook, I had a definite plan in
mind; that is, to go back into the North equipped for a year and a half and devote my entire time to working
out the life story of the Eskimo, which, as I have mentioned before, became Nanook of the North. I realized
from the start that in order to work out my subject effectively I must have not only the equipment for
developing my negative but apparatus both for printing and projecting, so that I could see my results in order
to correct them and retake whatever might be necessary.

Transportation was the first problem, for the journey to the point where I proposed to work- Cape Dufferin,
on northeastern Hudson Bay- involved a journey by canoe down to southeastern Hudson Bay, making
economy of weight and bulk imperative. For my projecting equipment I chose a Hallberg generating set and
Hallberg's suitcase type of projector, an outfit which Hallberg had designed for mule back transportation in
the South American market. This outfit, which gave a good account of itself, was portable to the last degree,
the apparatus complete- engine and dynamo- weighing less than a hundred pounds. For printing apparatus I
used a Williamson wall-type printer; for developing, four 200-foot capacity spider frames made of brass, the
pins insulated with rubber tubing, and four 15-gallon capacity copper trays. I am still looking for the man who
invented those spider frames, for a more laborious method of developing film (the loading of a 200-foot unit
alone was a fifteen-minute operation) I have never seen. The danger of overlapping of the film while in the
developer required almost constant supervision, making my experience in developing some 70,000 feet of
negative and 20,000 feet of print an unforgetable one.

The point where I decided to winter and undertake the film was the fur post of Revillon-Freres near Cape
Dufferin on northeastern Hudson Bay, as the crow flies, 900 miles north of the railway frontier of northern
Ontario. The post comprised a store, a factor's house, and a clerk's dwelling. The last named, a single story hut
about 30 by 30 feet, was turned over to me to be used as a dwelling and laboratory combined. The man power
of the place was one white man (the factor) and some half dozen Eskimos. The Eskimos lived on sea biscuit,
lard and tea, and were given a not too opulent wage, amounting to less than five dollars a month, and were
maintained by the factor as his servants. Three of them, since I had come into the country without an assistant,
were turned over to me to be my servants. These were Nanook and two lesser individuals bearing the
somewhat grotesque nicknames of "Harry Lauder" and "Matches." Our first job was to partition off with
scraps of lumber and rubberoid a portion of the hut for a dark-room, 6 by 15 feet in dimension. At one end
was a window which we banked up with rubberoid and then on a board frame mounted the Williamson
printer, first cutting an inlet about two inches square to admit light, for by daylight controlled by nothing more
accurate than white muslin stretched over the aperture, the prints of Nanook were made. There was no motor
drive on the printer. Every print was ground out by hand. I printed, all told, about 20,000 feet in that
memorable year. But the darkroom and its impedimenta were simplicity itself in comparison with the lengths
to which I had to go to provide some sort of place for the film drying and washing. With the most meager
resources as to lumber (what little I could carry on the sixty-foot schooner on which I had journeyed) we built
a wing to the hut some twenty feet long and ten feet wide and then a drying reel whose 1600-foot capacity
was such as almost to fill the room. For heat we had a discarded box stove and for fuel nothing more adequate
than bituminous ship's coal! Under such conditions the 70,000 feet of negative and 20,000 feet of print
(pardon me if I repeat the figures) were dried, the reel kept in motion only by the strong arms of Nanook or
Harry Lauder and sometimes, depending on the weather, kept in motion, more or less, the whole night long
while I slept in my sleeping bag just beyond cremation range. Our source of water for washing the film was
the river sealed with eight feet of ice through which a water hole was kept chiseled every morning and night
of the winter. From the hut this hole was a quarter of a mile away, so by sledge and dogs the water in ice
choked barrels was sledged by the womenfolk and children of Nanook's and Harry Lauder's families with
much laughter, much shouting, and a fight now and then among the team. The number of barrels we wrestled
with that long year can be imagined.

My camera equipment consisted of two Akeley cameras, some minor spare parts, and ten 200-foot capacity
retorts. There were also one 4x5 and one 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 Graflex camera equipped with plate magazines and
holders for Lumiere Autochrome color plates. My film stock was the standard Eastman motion picture film.
My camera plates were Seed Orthonon, in conjunction with which I used Wratten K2 filters as well as with
the motion picture film wherever possible. The Akeleys stood up well. For lubrication, I used sparingly Nye's
whale oil, such as is used for watch and chronometer lubrication. The Akeleys in the coldest weather- nearly
fifty degrees below zero- never froze up. On one occasion, however, during a sledging expedition in January,
I mounted the camera, only to find when I began cranking that the film broke up in the gate like so much
wafer glass. My pocket thermometer read minus thirty-five degrees. For the balance of that journey my film
retorts were kept in an igloo during the night, packed in a grub box, and by day wrapped in my eiderdown
sleeping bag, which kept them at a temperature of not more than minus ten degrees, so as to be ready the
moment we sighted polar bear, the quarry we were after. With the Graflexes, however, the extreme cold did
make a difference. From ten degrees on their shutters invariably stuck. If I were to make another similar
expedition I should use between-the-lens shutters on them for winter work.

On two previous expeditions while I was exploring in the North, I used a Bell-Howell camera which I
purchased in 1913. It was one of Bell-Howell's first cameras- Number 25, to be exact. Though of course it
was a better instrument mechanically than the Akeley, I did not like it nearly so well, the Akeley being less
bulky. The Akeley shutter too gave me much more latitude in exposure- no small consideration in the North.
Another important consideration. was the ease of panoraming and above all the ease of loading film in
extreme cold- so cold oftentimes that I, all thumbs and running nose, had to call upon Nanook and Harry
Lauder, trained into loading and threading the gate at the post, to step into the breach.

My projection outfit worked satisfactorily, though the projection space was nothing larger than the trader's
living room and the screen a white Hudson Bay blanket, every square inch of floor being occupied by
squatting Eskimos alongside the dynamo and the sputtering, fire-cracking engine which exhausted into the
room. But the exhaust had no appreciable effect upon the atmosphere, so pungent was the seal oil odor of the
post's best Eskimo society.

Plate and film magazines are to a man in my type of work utterly inadequate. On more than one occasion I
have without avail approached the photographic companies with the suggestion that if retorts something like
film retorts for motion picture cameras were made for my Graflex cameras sufficient to hold, say, a hundred
exposures without loading, they would save endless worry and labor, obviating as they would the loading of
half a dozen magazines before striking out from my base and the reloading when they were all exhausted in
my changing bag, in the not too comfortable atmosphere of an igloo at the end of a long, tired day; or, worse
still, with sweaty hands in the heat-drenched latitudes of Samoa.

It was a far cry from filming the Eskimos to my next venture, Samoa, in the South Seas. Armed with my
northern experience and having more latitude in the matter of transportation, my South Sea outfit was more
nearly adequate to the kind of film which I proposed to make, which, as Nanook was a story of the Eskimo,
was to be a story of the Polynesian.

My outfit comprised two Homelite 32-volt generating sets, one to furnish power and illumination for a
Power's projector and the other for the Moy printer and motor-driven drying-reels in the laboratory. My
developing outfit was a standard studio set of 200-foot developing frames and four wooden tanks for
developing, washing, and fixing. The developing and fixing chemicals were Eastman Number 16 developer
and Eastman acid hypo fixer. My laboratory was a building a story and a half high, 30 feet long by 20 feet
wide, of frame walls, and corrugated iron roof, built under the overspreading branches of a breadfruit tree. It
faced the black mouth of a cave which ran down some 30 feet at a steep angle and then wound in for a
thousand feet or more under the jungle. The bottom of the cave was covered to a depth of about five feet with
water, the coolest, clearest water in all Samoa. Frederick O'Brien had told me all about it before I left New
York. It was, in fact, this cave with its cold water which had determined my location in Samoa; namely, the
village of Safune, one of the notable villages on the westernmost of the Samoan islands, the island Savaki.
More idyllic surroundings for our film work would be difficult to imagine.

Mrs. Flaherty not only collaborated with me on the film, but between us we did the photography. My brother,
David T. Flaherty, and L.H.V. Clark, a young New Zealander whom I secured from the government service in
Samoa, were our assistants. Clark, I broke in to the developing, printing and laboratory work, which he most
ably carried on with the assistance of two unusually bright Samoan boys whose only weakness was the fear of
ghosts in the dark-room.

If, however, we thought our film difficulties had ended with the making of Nanook, we were to be
disappointed. In Samoa the difficulty began with the first film tests of native characters whom we proposed to
use. The complexion of the Samoans is light reddish-brown. In our tests made with the ordinary
orthochromatic film they stood out on the screen as dark as negroes, a lifeless black, so much so that we
realized the hopelessness of keeping on unless a color correction could be made. But the problem went even
further; for in the greens of the jungle and the water, the deep blue of the sea and the sky, and in the cloud
forms, so much a part of Polynesia, this too must be captured. This Polynesian scene, unlike Nanook which
was a study in black and white and was in all its essentials a dramatic fight for the food wherewith to live, was
an idyllic thing, a painter's picture, and all that we had for drama was the inherent beauty of the country and
its almost Grecian people. Obviously, there was only one film medium to use and that was panchromatic film.
In its use, however, we had had no experience. We soon found that in shadow we could get no correction,
particularly in portraiture and the correction of the flesh of our subjects. Only in full sunlight and preferably
with K3 filters and open lenses did we secure the complete correction we were after. We shot only in low
suns, up to 10 a. m. and after 4 p. m., the sun directly behind us like a low-hanging spotlight flooding the
subject. All the close-ups, portraiture, and details were done this way, though the heat on occasions was
enough to melt the rubber gaskets on the cameras, and the curtains had to be let down to give our subjects a
respite from the sun, or they might have been fried like bacon in a pan.

To us, the method was a revelation not only in the balance of reds and blues and greens, but in the way it
brought out through this balance the sculpturesque values of arms and hands and figures, and the forms of
trees and leaves as uncorrected orthochromatic film could never hope to do. The transparency of water, as we
have shown it in the film, was due of course to the color correction in the green coupled with a staging that
enabled me to use the camera high above the water, so that the water itself acted as a reading glass before the

Why, you will probably ask, did we not photograph our portraiture and details with electric illumination? The
answer is that we were afraid it would destroy the unconsciousness of our subjects. And if there was one thing
in particular that we were after, it was just that quality.

I want to say here that my best results, as I had found with Lumiere Autochrome plates, were obtained with
open lenses.

A word about the keeping qualities of our panchromatic film in Samoa: Much of the panchromatic film we
used was well over the manufacturer's time limit when we used it, but as far as I could see it was satisfactory.
The film was shipped down to us from Rochester at three-month intervals. Samoa from Rochester is half way
around the world thirteen degrees south of the equator in the South Pacific Ocean.

Now we came to the subject of developing. The cave we converted into a dark-room, bulkheaded the entrance
with double doors, and down into the cave over the water, which was about five feet deep, we built a
platform. We made inlets in the platform for our tanks, which rested at the bottom of the water, only a foot or
so projecting above the platform. The cold water acted as a jacket around them and maintained our solutions
at an even temperature. Two electric lights, a table, and rack stands completed the outfit. The temperature of
the water, the iciest in all Samoa- and it actually did feel icy compared with the warmth of the air and the sea
water, which is constantly 83 degrees- was 76 degrees. All developing was done in complete darkness, tests
determining the length of time. With full strength Eastman Number 16 developer, the usual developing time
was 2 1/2 minutes. The maximum time as the solution grew weaker was 6 minutes. Fixation was the usual
twenty minutes and washing about fifteen minutes. The washing was done by two Samoan boys bailing into a
tank which stood close to the water with its outlet of course at the bottom of the tank.

Drying the film proved to be here, as it was during the making of Nanook, the most difficult of all our
operations. Though we had a motor-driven reel and used two oil stoves in attempts at drying the air of the
drying-room, on many occasions so excessive was the humidity in Samoa that it required twelve hours to dry
our negative. My next equipment will have above all else a drying apparatus designed to dry even if the room
has to be built in New York and shipped knocked-down to whatever point is to be my destination though that
destination may be the farthest corner of the earth.

We found that in the use of the standard studio developing rack our rack flare was particularly excessive, as
much as a most marked throb when print or trial pieces of negative were projected. Those parts of the film
which were in contact with the top and bottom of the rack were often jet black; sometimes, the density
extended a dozen frames or more beyond it. We made endless trials to overcome this rack flare- shuffled the
film during development; used tight and loose and moderate windings on the rack; reversed racks while in
solution; put racks in water for various intervals before development. We even made a drum and, rotating it,
developed in a trough, only to get rack flare on every drum slat upon which the film rested. We got ice from
Apia, the metropolis of Samoa, and chilled our solutions to the standard 65 degrees, and that failed. Finally,
we sent some of the film to the Famous Players laboratory at Hollywood, where had been installed a
refrigeration system which was used to chill the racks. Though less marked than ours, the results they sent
back had rack flare. Thereupon I gave up the racks and adopted spirals made by Stineman in Los Angeles. I
got them in 200-foot units. We all felt that they would be difficult to handle, load, and discharge, but after a
little practice, such we found was not the case. They proved to be most satisfactory. I used wooden trays,
however, instead of the monel metal trays which Stineman furnishes. If the spirals could be made of hard
rubber instead of metal, I feel that this system would be (outside of developing machines which keep the film
in constant movement and maintain even stress) the most perfect developing equipment for my type of work.

We were also troubled by waver- not an uneven waver caused by development, but waver the cause of which
it took us a long time to find out. The cause was extraordinary when we did come upon it; it was a tank of
stale developer which had been thrown into the cave more than a month before, and though this water in the
cave was fed by a spring which bubbled up here and there in its length (which was about a thousand feet) and
was constantly discharging (this was proven by the fact that nowhere along the water's edge was there any
aquatic growth), the chemicals from the solution remained active, I suppose because the cave was constantly
in darkness. How we found that the waver was caused by the decomposition of old developer was by washing
our film in other water and getting no trace of waver. The cave water was causing intensification, or, call it
what you will, when the film was being washed!

Though we didn't realize it at the time, our experiments did not matter much nor was our final spiral-
developed negative- free from waver and rack flare and steady as a rock- so valuable as we imagined. For, in
the finished prints of Moana- executed in safe and sane and spotless laboratories of the industry- they
managed to put back the waver and rack flare that we had taken out plus more pin-holes than I thought the
world could hold.

The atmosphere in Samoa is very corrosive. Every metal part of our equipment, nickel-plated or otherwise, if
not looked after, soon became a mass of rust. Brass parts became masses of verdigris. A secondhand piano
which we had brought with us was in pieces of tin pan in no time; even the sounding board came apart
through the softening of the glue. The glue of Graflex plate holders softened, and the holders went to pieces.
One of my Graflex 4 x 5 cameras warped so that it was useless. One day I found to my dismay a veining
somewhat like the veins in a leaf and an iridescent marking on one of my Dallmeyer telephoto lenses. I found
the markings impossible to remove; they were on the inner cells. Those markings are still there, and I am told
the lenses will have to be re-ground. But there was just one article we had which, even without care, remained
free of corrosion, some English table knives. They were made of rustless steel. If there was one particular
source of trouble to me, it was the film track and film gates of my motion picture cameras. Before I go off
again, I am going to try to have them made for me out of stainless steel; one of my camera worries and yards
of scratched and scarred film will then, I hope, be gone forever.

I often thought while we floundered with our almost overwhelming film outfit in Samoa that if one of our
photographic manufacturers had a representative there with us just to study photographic equipment and its
practical application under trying and novel conditions, much might be gained thereby, redounding to the
prestige of the manufacturer, the infinite comfort (to say the least) of the camera worker, and the advancement
of a new field in that which is the common interest of us all- the motion picture.

Mr. Crabtree: It is unfortunate that when Mr. Flaherty asked our advice our experiments on rack flare had not
progressed sufficiently so that we could assist him in overcoming his difficulty.

With regard to the Stineman developing outfit, it consists of a metal strip wound as a spiral, and the film is
wound in contact with it. I agree with Mr. Flaherty that this is a very practical, portable outfit. Certain
precautions must be observed in manipulation of the film spiral. If it is agitated vertically, owing to the flow
of the developer through the perforations, perforation streaks are obtained. Our experiments have shown that
by twisting the rack once a minute, the development is uniform and the perforation marks are eliminated.

With regard to the drying difficulty, I think that if explorers would prevent swelling of the film during
development and harden the film in the unswollen condition by following the procedure outlined in the paper
on "Handling Motion Picture Film at High Temperatures," (Transactions No. 19), the quantity of moisture to
be removed from the film would be reduced to a minimum, and the film would withstand relatively high
temperatures during drying. Mr. Flaherty's procedure was to use low temperature air for drying, and naturally
film in a swollen condition would dry with difficulty in a humid atmosphere. If he prevented swelling and
suitably hardened the film so that air at a higher temperature (and therefore lower relative humidity) could be
used for drying, trouble would be eliminated, and it would not be necessary to construct an expensive drying

The Odyssey of a Film-Maker

By Frances Hubbard Flaherty (1960)

Originally appeared as Frances Hubbard Flaherty, The Odyssey of a Film-Maker, Beta Phi Mu Chapbook,
Number Four, 1960, pages 9-18.


I shall speak to you of Robert Flaherty's method, because this method and the way it came to be is, I believe,
the important legacy he left us, and because for me it was the great experience of my life with him. And also
because his films themselves do not give evidence of a method, that is of an apparatus of film-making and its
devices. I remember Sir Carol Reed saying to me, "When I look at other people's films I can usually tell
exactly how they have arrived at their effects; in your husband's films I cannot tell at all." And a student
writing her thesis on "The Films of Robert Flaherty and Their Critics" remarked that many critics had said
much the same thing: that they found a "sort of magic" in the films and could not tell what that magic was.

Magic, the thing we cannot understand, we tend to write off as "genius." But what we write off, history in its
own good time writes in again, no longer as magic, but as the science which it has become.

To begin with a brief summary:

Robert Flaherty made three biographies of peoples- Nanook of the North of the Eskimos, Moana of the
Polynesians, and Man Of Aran of islanders living off the coast of Ireland. They have been called Films of the
Spirit of Man. All have the same theme- the spirit with which these people come to terms with their
environment. History from age to age has been written in the spirit of peoples, as it is being written now in
our spirit. And what Robert Flaherty is saying in these three films he has told us himself in a talk he gave for
the British Broadcasting Corporation. "Nanook's problem was how to live with nature. Our problem is how to
live with our machines. Nanook found the solution of the problem in his own spirit, as the Polynesians did in
theirs. But we have made for ourselves an environment that is difficult for the spirit to come to terms with.
Our problem still goes on." In The Land, a film he made for the Agriculture Department of the United States
Government, he asks the question: "When will man learn to live with his machines? These miraculous
machines! A new world stands before us, a world beyond our dreams. The great fact is the land, the Land
itself and the People, and the Spirit of the People." The power of our great machines to transform the world
Robert Flaherty saw as an extension of our own spirit. The importance of the new machine, the motion-
picture camera, was its power to change that spirit, to transform us in ourselves.

"When you talk about your husband's work," a good friend advised me, "don't try to say too much, but
hammer home the one thing you are really talking about, the one thing that really matters. Put it all into one
word and keep to that, keep saying it. Make it clear that your talk is not a memorial to Robert Flaherty, but a
call- his call, if you like- to one particular thing."

The word I have chosen is "non-preconception," an explorer's word. Non-preconception is the pre-condition
to discovery, because it is a state of mind. When you do not preconceive, then you go about finding out. There
is nothing else you can do. You begin to explore.

"All art," said Robert Flaherty, "is a kind of exploring. To discover and reveal is the way every artist sets
about his business." The explorers, the discoverers, are the transformers of the world. They are the scientist
discovering new fact, the philosopher discovering in new fact new idea. Above all, they are the artist, the
poet, the seer, who out of the crucible of new fact and new idea bring new life, new power, new motive, and a
deep refreshment. They discover for us the new image.

"Discovery, writes L.L. Whyte in his book, The Next Development in Man," is the essence of social
development, and a method of discovery its only possible guarantee."[1] Non-preconception, a method of
discovery as a process of film-making, was Robert Flaherty's contribution to the motion picture. From that
method everything there is in his films flows.

Robert Flaherty is known as "The Father of Documentary," and it is true that he was the first to fashion his
films from real life and real people. But a Flaherty film must not be confused with the documentary
movement that has spread all over the world, for the reason that the documentary movement (fathered not by
Robert Flaherty but by a Scotsman, John Grierson) was from its beginning all preconceived for social and
educational purposes, just as many of our most famous films have been preconceived for political purposes,
for propaganda, and, as Hollywood preconceives, for the box office. These films are timely, and they serve,
often powerfully and with distinction, the timely purposes for which they were made. But there are other
films, and the Flaherty films are among these, that are timeless. They are timeless in the sense that they do not
argue, they celebrate. And what they celebrate, freely and spontaneously, simply and purely, is the thing itself
for its own sake. They are timeless in the sense of the Mohammedan prayer which says, "O, God, if I worship
Thee in fear of Hell, burn me in Hell; or if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise; but
if I worship Thee for Thine Own Sake, withhold not Thine Everlasting Beauty."

It was as an explorer that Robert Flaherty came into films, and not until he was forty years old. As he said, "I
was an explorer first and a motion picture maker a long way after." His explorations took him into the North,
into Hudson Bay. On four expeditions over a period of six years he made two crossings of the largest
unknown land mass left in that part of the world, rediscovered islands in the Bay that had been lost since the
time of Henry Hudson, and became, as his friend and fellow-explorer, Peter Freuchen, said of him, "The great
name in Canadian subarctic exploration."

These years of exploration in the North with the Eskimos were Robert Flaherty's motion-picture school. From
the Eskimos he learned to see as he had not seen before.

Robert Flaherty had himself the keen eyes of an explorer, trained to read the signs in a landscape, but the
Eskimo has eyes keener still, for on that great white screen which is his world the Eskimo must be instantly
aware of every movement, every least shadow of movement that might mean game, food, life. And if
visibility is blotted out, as it so often is, his other senses must take over, for his commitment to life is total,
and his orientation must be total. The passing moment becomes the fullness of fife and its fulfillment-
becomes, as on the motion-picture screen, the moment of truth.

The teaching of the North was its immensity, its vast simplicity, its emptiness, unclutteredness, its clarity and
purity, and its elemental strength, wind and snow endlessly carving new worlds of hazard and beauty- of a
mysterious, mystical beauty. I once asked Bob why he wanted to go back and back again to that country and
its hardships. For a long moment he was thoughtful. I was waiting for him to counter with something about its
beauty. He said simply, "I go to come back." In that life up there, there was something he found that was for
him a deep refreshment, a profound renewal.

on his third expedition into the Bay his chief, Sir William Mackenzie, said to him, "Why don't you take up
with you one of those newfangled things called a motion-picture camera?" Why not indeed? He could make a
film of these remarkable people, the Eskimos. If he showed them on the screen just as they were, perhaps
others would feel about them as he felt, see as he saw their fine spirit.

Eagerly he shot off 70,000 feet of film, took it to Toronto to edit, and then, "Amateur that I was," he said, "I
dropped a lighted cigarette on it and it went up in flame. But I wasn't sorry. It was a bad film; it was dull- it
was little more than a travelogue. I had learned to explore, I had not learned to reveal." His subject he knew
and loved; no one could have known and loved it better. What he did not know yet was his instrument, his
camera. He was determined to go back.

With a partial print of the burned film under his arm, for two years Robert Flaherty trudged the streets of New
York. Finally persuading Revillon Freres, the French furriers, to finance him, he went again into the Bay, met
Nanook, mighty hunter of the Itivimuit tribe of Eskimos, and there on the bleak, barren coast of the Bay, half-
way to the North Pole, in a one-room hut snow-walled to the eaves in winter, he began his thirty years'
research of the motion-picture camera. For, this time, he took up with him, besides his camera and film, a
developing, printing, and projecting outfit, so that he could see what he was getting as he went along, what his
camera was doing, what it could do, what the capacities were of this new machine.

He had the Eskimos to help him- Nanook and three others: Wetaltook, Tookalook, and Little Tommy. They
did everything for him. They brought water for developing the film, chiseling six feet down through river ice
and bringing it in barrels sloshing with ice and deer hair that fell into it from their fur clothing. They strained
it and heated it. They built a drying reel out of driftwood, combing the coastline for miles to pick up enough
wood to finish it. When Bob's little electric light plant failed to give a light steady enough for printing, they
blacked out a window all but a bit the size of a single motion-picture frame, and through this slot Bob printed
his film, frame by frame, by the light of the low arctic sun. The cameras fell into the sea and had to be taken
apart, cleaned, and put together again. Fortunately, the Eskimo has, naturally, an exceptional mechanical gift.
When Bob couldn't put his Graflex together (it has a complicated shutter) he turned all the scattered parts of it
over to Tommy, and Little Tommy put them together for him.

But the Eskimos had no idea whatever what all this they were doing was about. They had never seen a film.
Give them a still picture to look at, and, like as not, they would hold it upside-down. So one day Bob threaded
his projector, pinned a Hudson's Bay blanket on the wall, and invited them all in, men, women, and children.
He had taken a picture of Nanook spearing a walrus, the walrus fighting in the surf to get away, and Nanook
on shore struggling to drag him in while the cow walrus came and locked tusks with her mate in a desperate
effort to pull him free.

The projector light shone out. There was complete silence in the hut. They saw Nanook. But Nanook was
there in the hut with them, and they couldn't understand. Then they saw the walrus, and then, said Bob,
pandemonium broke loose. "Hold him!" they screamed. "Hold him!" and they scrambled over the chairs and
each other to get to the screen and help Nanook hold that walrus!

From then on there was no talk of anything but more hunting scenes for the "aggie," as they called the picture.
There was one scene particularly which became an obsession with Nanook, and that was a bear hunt. He
knew where the bears were denning, giving birth to their young. It was easy, he said, to find a den by its vent
with the steam coming out. With his snow knife he would cut the vent open, the enraged mother would rush
out rearing, the dogs would engage her, she would toss them hurtling through the air, and then, said Nanook,
"With my spear I will close in. Wouldn't that make a fine 'aggie'?" Bob said it would, and they started off for
the bear country.

It was an ill-fated journey. Bad weather set in, and there was no game, no seal, no food for the dogs and the
men. The dogs grew weak; one dog died. They stopped, built an igloo, and while Bob huddled in his sleeping
bag and the dogs huddled in the igloo tunnel, the men went off to hunt. Day after day passed, and still there
was no game. Even the sea-birds were dying, lying frozen on the ice. The men themselves were losing
strength. Every morning Bob would offer them what was left of the last of his own food, but Nanook wouldn't
touch it. At last one night the men came back, and by the crunch of their feet on the snow Bob knew that they
were bringing something. Behind them they were dragging a seal, and it was a big square-flipper. The dogs
were fed; the men gorged and then slept. Through the night, said Bob, from their warm bodies curlicues of
steam spiralled up into the cold air. In the morning they were able to travel again.

It was cold work, filming, so cold that sometimes the film, when threaded into the camera, shattered like so
much glass. Nanook would have to carry it inside his fur clothing next to his warm body, the same place
where he warmed Bob's feet when they were cold. The coldest time of all, Bob remembered, was after the
long day's sledging, waiting in the bitter wind and drifting snow for Nanook to build the igloo. One night,
caught by a blizzard, that hour of waiting was almost more than he could bear. At last, the final block of the
igloo in place, on the heels of Nanook he crawled in Nanook lit a candle. Around and above them the snow
dome " sparkled and glittered and glistened like the dust of diamonds." Nanook's face broke into a smile. He
turned to Bob. "Surely," he said, no house of the Kablunak (the white man) could be so wonderful."

After a year in the North and almost as many months in New York editing his film, Bob brought it to the
distributors. A distributor must now be found to buy it or the public would never see it, never know that there
was such a film. He took it to them all, one after the other, and one after another they all turned it down. Not
by the farthest stretch of the imagination, said they, could such a film ever be box-office. They didn't even
trouble to return the print, and Bob had humbly to rummage for it and salvage it from a scrap heap.

Often Nanook had laughed at Bob- how foolish he was to take so much trouble to make a film of them who
were certainly the commonest people in the world! But Bob had a prescience about his film. Up there in the
Bay, sitting with Nanook on the cobbled shore waiting for the Hudson's Bay steamer that was to take him out-
Nanook very sad because now there would be no more hunting for the film and there were so many more
wonderful hunting scenes they still could make- Bob comforted him, saying, "You see these pebbles? As
many kablunat (white men) as there are pebbles on this beach will see Nanook and his family."

Nanook was finally taken for distribution by a French newsreel company, Pathe Freres. Two French firms,
Pathe Freres and Revillon Freres, got together and made a deal. Pathe wanted to cut the film up into
newsreels. Revillon prevailed upon them to take it whole.

Two years later Nanook was dead- as so many of his people die- of starvation. Storm-bound while hunting in
the interior, he had not been able to reach the coast and its life-giving seal in time. But by that time Nanook,
the film, had gone around the world, and Nanook, the Eskimo hunter, had become a world character, world-
beloved. News of his death came out in the press as far away as China and Japan. In Malaya there was a new
word for "strong man," and it was "Nanuk." Ten years later in Berlin, in the Tiergarten, I bought an Eskimo
pie. It was called a "Nanuk," and Nanook's face smiled up at me from the wrapper.

Such was the impact of this first film of its kind, made without actors, without studio, story, or stars, just of
everyday people doing everyday things, being themselves.

That was in 1922, and now in 1959 the film is still being shown. Where I live in Vermont I do not have
television, but my neighbors do. Twice last year they called me up. "You'd better come over," they said.
"They're showing Nanook." What is the secret of the life of this very simple film? What is there about it that
makes it endure? For commercially it is probably the most long-lived film that has ever been made.

I met two young German film directors a year or so ago, and when they told me that Nanook was still playing
in Germany, I asked them, "Why do you think this is? How do you explain it?" One of them spoke up
quickly, "It is because we can identify with these people on the screen."

Now, Hollywood wants us to identify with its stars: that is what the stars are for. But I do not think that is
what those Germans meant- not identifying with Eskimos in that sense. I think they meant that our
identification is with life itself, with universal life of which we and these people are a part. When Nanook and
Nyla and little Allegoo smile out at us from the screen, so simple, so genuine and true, we, too, become
simple, genuine, true. They are themselves: we, in turn, become ourselves. Everything that might separate us
from these people falls away. In spite of all our differences, indeed the more because of them, we are one with
these people. And that feeling of oneness can deepen and become a feeling of oneness with all peoples and all
things. It can become that profound and profoundly liberating experience we can "participation mystique."
But- and this is the point- let one false gesture, one least unnatural movement, the slightest hint of artificiality,
appear, and separateness comes back. Again we are just looking at the people on the screen, and the whole
experience of identity, of oneness, of participation, becomes impossible, could not happen, could never be.
The secret of Nanook lies, I believe, in those two words, "being themselves." Not Acting, but Being.

[1] L.L. Whyte, The Next Development in Man, New York, Holt, 1948, page 138.

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