Nanook of the North

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Nanook of the North is a documentary by Robert J. Flaherty and is considered the first feature-length documentary. It can be said that Flaherty made the film twice. The first time, the film and the original footage was destroyed in a fire. The film now in existence was released in New York in 1922.

In the tradition that would emerge of salvage ethnography, Flaherty captured the struggling life of the Inuit Nanook and his family. However, often Flaherty would encourage Nanook to hunt in the method of his ancestors (without the use of a gun) in order to capture what was believed to be the way the Inuit lived before European influence. Flaherty has faced some criticism for this and other stagings present in the film; Flaherty defended himself by stating that a filmmaker often has to distort a thing to catch its true spirit. One defense that later filmmakers have made is that the only cameras available at the time were both heavy and large, not allowing the cinema verite style or mobility popularized later with smaller cameras. Nonetheless, nearly everything in the film was staged, including the ending, where Nanook and his family are supposedly in peril of dying if they can't find shelter quickly enough (they had already built a special igloo for Flaherty's camera, with one side of it cut away to allow more light in so that Flahery could pick up an image) Since Flaherty's time, both staging action and attempting to steer the action have come to be considered unethical among documentarians, as has any sort of re-enactment which is not immediately obvious as a re-enactment.