In this blog I would like to share my passion for documentaries with you, and take a journey through the ages, as well talk about ways documentaries are created, and what effect modern technology is having on that process.
But first I want to start with the earliest of films and take a look at what started the progress in non-fiction narratives that has been made through technology, ingenuity, and the drive to document something that no one has ever seen.
This first post will focus on the grandfather of documentary films Robert J. Flaherty and his 1922 documentary Nanook of the North in which he followed a native Canadian Inuit documenting his day to day life, and his interactions with modern technology. Lasting 78 minutes and completely silent with only English subtitles this film was for many Americans this was their first view of the native people of northern Quebec, and this type of “adventure documentary”.
Flaherty who was an explorer by trade decided on his third trip to north Quebec in 1913, decided to bring a camera along with him. Flaherty was by no means a professional film maker in fact he knew little to nothing about filming so he took a three week course in film making and headed north. The filming was not without its setbacks a great deal of film was lost when a camera was damaged by the harsh northern environment.
The film itself was well received in the states with its humorous depiction of native Intuits and their ignorance of modern tools and technology, but the film also sparked an interest in explorers and men and women of an adventurous nature to document their travels on film and open a whole new world for the viewing public.
The film is now considered controversial because of Flaherty’s blatant use of staging and misrepresentation of the Inuit people. This issue was reviewed in the Claude Massot film Nanook Revisited .