It used to be that I dreaded showing this to a class or even asking my students to watch it on their own time. Nanook of the North felt like your father’s Cadillac. Now, I’m more and more fascinated with the film. Yes, issue of romanticization of the savage and staged scenes versus unobtrusive observation sit are still there to be discussed, but I’ve tired of such matters. My intrigue stems both from the conditions in which it was made as well as the means by which it was funded. I cannot think of many modern filmmakers who would endure what Flaherty endured to produce his film, except perhaps Herzog. Even so, our modern amenities and advances in technology make such a trek all the more easily done.
As for funding, this is a key issue in any film an particularly in documentary. No film is cheap to make, even those made on modern digital cameras. Outside of equipment and materials one must consider the everyday costs of living. To fund his adventure, Flaherty teamed up with a furrier. To think of a fur company funding a documentary is rather odd. Today most documentaries seek funding through grants, often set-up my companies from or individuals who made their money in manufacturing, but this is not exactly the same thing as the company itself giving a filmmaker money. Often a sponsored film was designed to showcase the sponsors wears, but in Nanook of the North there is no direct reference to Revillon Furs. Only one title card draws the connection between filmmaker and funding source.
Seeing Nanook of the North reminded me of Ready to Work: Portraits of Braddock, a film I watch last year. A film oddly enough sponsored by a jean manufacturing company. Perhaps what is old is new again.