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© McCord Museum
The Harpooner, 1920-1929
Robert J. Flaherty
1920-1929, 20th century
Photogravure on paper
50.4 x 33.1 cm
From M. Serge Vaisman
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

This photograph is an image from Nanook of the North, possibly the best-known documentary from the era of silent film. The film was one of several in which filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty explored the theme of man against the elements. For Qallunaat (non-Inuit) of the time, the film was probably their first exposure to images of life in what is now known as Nunavik.

Flaherty came to know the Inuit while working as a surveyor and prospector. Unfortunately, filmmaking technology at the time meant most of the events in the documentary had to be staged. Because Flaherty needed the Inuit to interrupt their normal hunting activities to appear in the film, he also paid them to perform. The character Nanook was played by an Inuit hunter named Allariallak. As a result, Flaherty was later accused of distorting reality.

Nunavimmiut today have mixed feelings about the film, on the grounds that the Inuit were portrayed as "cute little Eskimos" and somewhat simplistically.


A photograph of Inuit hunter Allariallak in the role of Nanook of the North.


Filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty was based at the Revillion Frères fur trading post at Inukjuak (Port Harrison) on Cape Dufferin.


The film, which recounts one year in the life of an Inuit hunter, was filmed in 1920-1921.


The "Nanook" of the film was actually the Inuit hunter Allariallak. Allariallak eventually died of starvation while on a caribou hunt. The filmmaker was Robert J. Flaherty. The film was financed by the fur-trading company Revillion Frères.

© Musée McCord Museum