Nanook of the North is famous for being the ‘first documentary’ however, according to Wikipedia, Robert J. Flaherty, the man behind the production, was criticized “for staging several sequences and thereby distorting the reality of his subjects’ lives.” But, it is still an important piece of history; and I was lucky enough to see history made again when on Thursday, June 21 (National Aboriginal Day) the First People’s Cinema Film Festival at the Bell TIFF Lightbox Theatre (June 21 to August 11) presented the feature with a brand new live soundtrack.
Festival curator Jesse Wente told us that Flaherty originally shot hundreds and hundreds of hours when it all went up in flames due to careless smoking. After that he was determined to go back to the North and re-film everything. After saving up for the trip and finding more backers to send him north once more, he went to the Canadian arctic to film everything over.
Nanook of the North shows the hardships that Canadian Inuit people endured at that time. Nanook and his family make the best of it with nothing more than furs, hunting supplies, a sleigh, a kayak, little household belongings, some dogs and a couple of pots. And most of all, they get through it all with a lot of laughter and love. Tanya Tagaq took the stage and crouched below the screen to sing a live soundtrack to the film including the sounds of the sled dogs and the winds.
Tanya is an incredible Inuk throat singer from Cambridge Bay and has become a popular performer at Canadian folk festivals and is known across Canada and internationally. She brought her adorable new daughter up on stage with her while she and her band, who met years before as part of a Canada Council show, answered questions from the enthusiastic audience.
When Tanya, her band (a drummer and a fiddler) and Nanook of the North came together to create a non-silent performance of the film it was breathtaking how the sounds and music went with the film so well, making it more interesting and attention grabbing. Even though the film was well made for the time era and I would definitely recommend this performance to anyone interested in arts, history and culture, it was still great to see it reborn through music and reclaimed by the Inuit people it represented all those years ago.