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Inukjuak celebrates the 100th anniversary of Nanook of the North

Municipality hosts music festival, film screening to commemorate centenary of release

One of the most important documentaries in cinematic history turns 100 this weekend and the community where it is set is hosting a festival to celebrate its legacy.

Nanook of the North is a silent film that follows the life of Allakariallak, known as Nanook in the film. Allakariallak hunts and survives in the countryside for a year. It is considered the first modern documentary film, although there have been criticisms that some of the scenes were staged.

Directed and filmed by Robert Flaherty, the film premiered on June 11, 1922 in New York City. It was preserved in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1989 and recognized as a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” film.

A lot of Nanook of the North was shot in the Inukjuak area, then known as Port Harrison.

Shaomik Inukpuk, the city manager of Inukjuak, is part of the team organizing the celebrations, which began on Wednesday and will culminate with a screening of the film on Saturday night.

He said Nanook of the North serves as a learning opportunity for the young people in the community. The film depicts a time when the Inuit were more nomadic and shows a different climate and landscape.

“A hundred years ago the ice seemed thicker, and today the ice is very thin, it’s disappearing very quickly,” Inukpuk said. “You can see the big changes there [have] happened within the film and from now and where we are.”

People from outside the community fly in to join the celebrations, including several family members of those involved in making the film.

Jamie Flaherty from Iqaluit is one of director Robert Flaherty’s grandchildren.

He said he’s looking forward to traveling and meeting some of his family members from the South. He’s also looking forward to seeing some of the locations where the film was filmed.

“We will see where he did the filming and also see our relatives,” he said. “We are all very happy to be Robert Flaherty’s grandsons, it means a lot to us.”

The Flaherty grandchildren travel to Inukjuak to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Robert Flaherty’s film Nanook of the North. L to R: William, Johnny, Jamie, Mary, Harry and Elisapee Flaherty. (Photo courtesy of Sheila Flaherty)

Robert Flaherty, an American who died in 1951 at the age of 67, directed a total of 15 films; Nanook was his first. Flaherty was also a former miner and explorer for Canadian railways, according to IMDB.com.

Nanook of the North has experienced some controversy in its century of existence. Most notable is the embellishment of aspects of Allakariallak’s personal life and the enactment of some Inuit hunting and survival scenes.

For example, Allakariallak’s wife is played by an actress in the film.

There is also a scene where Allakariallak is introduced to a gramophone – an early form of record player using a cone as an amplifier – and mimics trying to bite off a record. In truth, he was familiar with the device.

The hunting scenes are also decorated. While hunting with a rifle, Allakariallak was asked to use traditional tools such as a spear for the purposes of the film.

During his lifetime, Robert Flaherty acknowledged some of the creative liberties he took while filming the film, saying, “Often you have to distort to capture your true spirit.”

Film critic Roger Ebert praised it Nanook of the North in 2005, saying “There’s an authenticity to it that defies any complaints that some of the sequences were staged.”

Back in Inukjuak, Inukpuk said it was important to consider heritage Nanook of the North hat for Inuit: That people in other parts of the world did not know much about the existence of the Inuit at the time of publication.

Inukpuk said it’s worth looking back at how the film raised awareness of Inuit and how 100 years later they’re still here.

“We hope to update the world the way this movie did back then, we were put on the map,” he said. “It’s a good time for us, we’re still here, that makes us happy.”

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