Many ethnographic filmmakers are – and always have been-- content to record and educate. Since the early silent film days, factual films of this sort have captured a straight-forward view of the lifestyles, rituals, and customs of isolated people from far-away places.
Every once in a while, a filmmaker has been able to capture the lifestyles of remote people in ways that not only educate, but also touch our hearts. Flicker Alley has just released a double-disc Blu-ray titled NANOOK OF THE NORTH, THE WEDDING OF PALO, AND OTHER FILMS OF ARCTIC LIFE. NANOOK and PALO are two classic films that not only educate the viewer about Inuit life in the 1920s and 1930s, but also are shot in such a way that touches our emotions—bringing us in contact with long departed indigenous peoples, giving the viewer an opportunity to glimpse long-gone primitive ways of life, from walrus and seal hunts, to salmon fishing and igloo construction, to crafting and ritual dances.
NANOOK is a gem of a film, the first film project ever attempted by mining engineer and Arctic explorer Robert Flaherty. Flaherty wasn’t content just to show the Inuit people’s daily routines; he also wanted to express – to NAIL, if you will--the essence of the Inuit. He wasn’t an experienced filmmaker when he first set out to film the Inuit of the Hudson Bay area, but he learned as he worked—even having to remake his film when the first version burned up in an editing room fire. NANOOK OF THE NORTH was released in 1922, and the public flocked to see it. The characters in this semi-factual film really come to life, and the film never really dates. Flaherty came to be known as “the innocent eye” for his down-to-earth view of his subjects. In the same sense that directors such as Jean Renoir, Ingmar Bergman, and Francois Truffaut captured the hearts and humanity of their subjects, so did Robert Flaherty in NANOOK OF THE NORTH.
THE WEDDING OF PALO was filmed in the early 1930s in remote East Greenland. With a story of two men seeking marriage to the same woman, this film also is a semi-factual film, highlighting the lifestyles of the East Greenlanders. This film has been difficult to see, and its new release is a joy to many who know its contents and significance. The force behind THE WEDDING OF PALO was Knud Rasmussen, a Greenland-born Danish Arctic explorer and anthropologist.
When you view NANOOK OF THE NORTH and THE WEDDING OF PALO, don’t sit down expecting to see the sort of public school educational films that used to bore many youngsters in grade schools. NANOOK OF THE NORTH and THE WEDDING OF PALO are full-blooded stories that entertain as well as educate.
NANOOK OF THE NORTH is from a high definition master from a 35mm film restoration by David Shepard, with an orchestral score by Timothy Brock. THE WEDDING OF PALO is mastered in high definition and digitally restored from an original 35mm nitrate print in the collection of George Eastman House. Both are a treat to the eyes.
And there are more than 2 hours of bonus films on these discs-- important records of the Arctic mainly from the first half of the 20th century.
Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She teaches film studies at the University at Albany and has co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.
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