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Robert Flaherty's epochal (semi-)documentary portrait of an Inuit family eking out their existence in the harsh Arctic wilderness is perhaps the most famous film ever made about Indigenous people.
Perhaps the most famous film ever made about Indigenous people, Robert Flaherty's captivating portrait of the life of an Inuit family continues to intrigue through its seamless combination of authenticity and fabrication. Flaherty, who had spent years in the north as a prospector and surveyor and built strong relationships with the region's Indigenous inhabitants, sought to both faithfully record the realities of his subjects' everyday existence (most notably in the famous igloo-building sequence) while fictionalizing certain elements for the purposes of drama: the family at the film's centre was not a family at all, and the modern clothing, tools and methods that the Inuit had adopted were suppressed in order to preserve the illusion that they were still living an archaic, "traditional" life. However, despite its many distortions, Nanook avoids the colonial gaze that would afflict so many of the ethnographic films to come, its sympathy and respect for its subjects (who actively collaborated with Flaherty in determining the structure of the film) making it not only one of the first great "documentaries," but one of the cinema's great humanistic milestones.