Introduction Film History

Nanook film is a documentary film produced by Robert Flaherty in 1922 (Pierce, David 1998). Flaherty, known as the father of the documentary film, produced Nanook of the North which showcased culture of an Eskimo community in Canada. The film was first shot between August 1920 and August 1921 in Hudson Bays Ungava Peninsula. Initially, the film footage started out as an informal procedure until Flaherty decided to have a formal documentation acquired, after having lived with the Eskimos for several years. Flaherty was fortunate enough to acquire support from a French fur company, Revillion Freres, who helped finance the said documentation. The film involved staged scenes on Eskimo hunting, fishing, building an igloo and other related daily life activities of Eskimos. Flaherty focused on the general aspect of Eskimo culture rather than rely on the more specific ones. He valued and realized the importance of story-telling which further motivated him to dig into the idea of mans harsh encounters at the back of extreme living conditions. 
Theory on Cultural Relativism
While Flaherty was a filmmaker ahead of his time, similarly Ruth Benedict was an anthropologist well ahead of hers. Benedict defined culture as a consistent pattern of thought and action. She is a supporter of the cultural relativism theory which states that no single culture should be viewed as being inferior relative to other cultures. The theory argues that every culture is unique in its own right and therefore should not be judged with respect to how it treats its people (Benedict, Ruth 1934). Furthermore, Benedict believed in the idea that anthropology should move away from the books and towards observing human interactions and behavior.

The fact that both ethnographers and film-makers are the ones exposed to their subjects of study more often, it gives them an opportunity to realize as to how their study or film should look like, what aspects should it focus on and, in what way can it capture its subject without having to compromise its real value and meaning.

The Nanook Film A Form of Ethnography with Entertainment
A film is considered ethnographic when an ideal fusion is created between the film-maker and the ethnographer. A film-maker should adhere to the demands of ethnography (without having to compromise the true meaning of the culture examined) and an ethnographer should be aware of the limitations of the visual technology used by the former (Heider, Karl G. 2006). Flaherty had come to realize the relationship of the two which make his film ethnographic in the making. In addition, the documentation was intended to speak for the natives. Ethnography is more than just an act of documenting, but involved the creation of an idea by an outsider, who would represent the natives incapacity to construct one (Stanely, Diamond Levi-Strauss, Claude). Flaherty had allowed himself to be ethnographized in such a way that there will be no permanent privileges and grounds for inferiority (Forte, Maximilian 2009). The value of an ethnographic film is defined by the credibility of its sources and the authenticity of how it is produced.

English Anthropologist Bronislaw Kasper Malinowskis notion of a complete cultural documentation is one which adhered to the theory of functionalism, a branch of Social Anthropology which states that every part of a peoples culture, be it in the past or present, has a huge part in making a long term definition of a certain human society.  Malinowski used to travel from South Seas bringing with him his ethnographic materials used to document every event he encounters. His high regard for documentation as the basis of his ethnographic studies brought him fame in the field of ethnography. He placed high value on basic understanding and recording of the actual life rather than analyzing cultural features itself.
Robert Flaherty himself regarded his general observations as the core of his film which may be considered ethnographic considering the methods he used to document Inuit culture. The film was intended to produce a copy of the actual daily life proceedings in the Canadian Arctic region which could be used to define and describe the type of human society the region has in general inhabitants hunt food, make shelter suitable to the environment and has a basic societal structure called family. These usual activities sufficed the Eskimos biological system of needs as to what Malinowski have considered as the basic needs a certain culture must provide.  For instance, the type of shelter Eskimos have as per Flahertys documentation implies the need of every individual   to indirectly satisfy his or her condition under an extremely harsh environment. Malinowski considered these as symbols or instrument enhancements to satisfy ones bodily need.  Perhaps, what made Flaherty successful as far as documentation is concerned is his professional experience in the field of map-making, mineralogy and cartography. This made him easier to travel amidst the unusual geography of the sub-arctic region and come across with its inhabitants. 
The Nanook film is considered an ethnographic study and more than just mere documentation for entertainments sake. Robert Flaherty was an explorer by profession and was given the chance to meet the inhabitants of the Canadian arctic region. These opportunities paved him the way to further study the peoples way of living, how they acquire food, build shelter and naturally respond to an environment which is almost unknown to man. His endeavor fascinated other historians and that his transformation towards being a professional film-maker was deeply rooted to his personal experiences, allowing himself to represent the practices of an Eskimo community through film-making. In fact, it was only in the year 1913 when his impulse had initially triggered him to study a new culture bringing with him a motion camera to document the events. Although the original source of his documentation became unavailable when he had accidentally burnt a portion of the film with a cigarette, he had managed to publish a book entitled The Drawings of Ennoesweetok of the Sikosilingmiut Tribe of the Eskimo and had kept a surviving print of his initial documentation which became the basic source of his Nanook of the North.
As far as film-making is concerned, it was made to entertain its audience. Flaherty simply used the movement of nature with respect to the movement of his camera (tilting and panning) so as to create a pantheistic animation of the scenes and introduce the season in general. These were mainly dependent on the movement of summer waters and mist which covered the winter ice. A potential film is characterized by its capacity to transmit anthropological knowledge known as the anthropology of visual communication (Ruby, Jay 2000). Flaherty produced a pictorial phenomenon which held pictorial statements as part of the cultural anthropologic mainstream, in a way representing a certain culture apart from his own. 
The film captured a foreign culture unknown even to European colonizers. The documentary highlighted not just the way of living Eskimos have in extremely remote areas of the Canadian arctic region, but it also caught the attention of its audience about real humanly struggle of love, family and natural adaptation. The film is entertaining in the sense that it captured the true spirit of an unfamiliar living condition far away from city life and was able to bring its audience into a setting where reality and an unknown culture coils up. In Benedicts words, one culture is different from another and should be respected as an independent entity. This follows that any representation, as far as visual production is concerned, should rather speak for its subject than the producers.
The film became more popular and was used in contemporary film documentations like Melanie McGraths A Long Exile A Long Story of Deception and Survival Amongst the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic and Charles Dances Kabloonak, a film produced in 1994 about the making of the original Nanook of the North.
Distortions of the Film Why is it Considerable
Many claimed that there had been slight distortions of the scenes which Flaherty had taken and this even triggered more interest on the audiences part. Setting aside the notion of ethnography from which the film based its sources, some of its stage events were criticized in favor of the film-makers idea and not from real events. For instance, the mans name as claimed by Flaherty was Nanook who was in fact known as Allakariallak to most people in the area. Moreover, many believed that the woman who was with Nanook was not really his wife in oppose to what Flaherty was trying to convey in his documentation. These distortions made the film more controversial and at the same time more entertaining in the eyes of its spectators. Flaherty had the man used a spear instead of a gun, which the latter had actually used for hunting wild animals, and not for walruses and seals as to what Flaherty had directed in his film. Furthermore, his documentation showed that the man had died of starvation two years after the film was shot, rather than of tuberculosis which many believed had caused the mans death in his home.
As far as the first motion pictures produced is concerned, the main challenge is whether anthropologists can use available film technology to produce films which convey knowledge based on their research work or not (Jay, Ruby 2000). In Flahertys defense, he claimed that in order to capture the true spirit of a film, a film-maker has the option to apply slight stage distortions with respect to how he saw the events. He claimed it was indeed difficult to capture interior or unstructured shots with large and immobile cameras, so it left him no choice but to recommend few modifications with respect to environment and actions of its subjects. It is in ethnographic film where knowledge of the ethnographer and the film-maker meet however, the films expected outcome is subject to limitations.

Thesis Statement
The Nanook film is more than just a form of entertainment. The documentation was followed general ethnographic guidelines, which captured the definition of the Inuit culture - one which is in the sense unique in terms of the daily life activities involved.     In addition, how the information was acquired was dependent on the personal experiences of the author who have come to live with the inhabitants for several years. He considered the community as his own and avoided gestures which may appear oppressive to them. The film was intended to represent a culture which could not speak of its own and that what makes it ethnographic.
With respect to Benedicts theory of cultural relativism, Flaherty was able to make the film by becoming a part of the community. He unconsciously subjected himself to a foreign culture distinct from his own and had come to respect the values within it. Benedicts concept of synergy (under cultural relativism) states that any society which contradicts basic human goal in respect to ones culture is evil. Flaherty, with respect to his profession, realized it by allowing Inuit cultural symbols to emerge on its own prior to representation. Although the author made some modifications as far as stage events are concerned, the film-maker had intentionally made it such, given the limitations of film technology at that time. The Nanook film, despite numerous criticisms, adhered to the standards of Benedict as far as cultural relativism theory is concerned.
The fact that he became a part of an existing culture, granting him the authority to speak on behalf of the Inuit community is deemed acceptable.


Отправить комментарий