Nanook of the North

“Nanook of the North” (1922) is sometimes referred to as “the first every documentary”.

Its director has been called “The Father of the Documentary”).

It’s a landmark doc where we ride shotgun on Nanook’s sled to glimpse the cold realities of Arctic survival.

Bleak yet beautiful cinematography that’ll give you frostbite through the screen.

And some controversy and SNL-like parody to boot! (at the bottom of this page).

Watch “Nanook of the North”

You can stream “Nanook” for free on YouTube by clicking the above embed video or here: (this is the best quality (hd) of the full doc on YouTube I can find).

You can also watch it for free on:

…or stream it for $$ on Amazon, Apple TV, YouTube, Google Play or Vudu Fandango.

Check here for the latest streaming options:

You can also buy the “Nanook of the North” DVD for around $20 (last I checked) on Amazon here.


  • My Rating: 96/100 IMDB Rating: 7.6/10Rotten Tomatoes Ratings: 80/100 (User); 100/100 (Critics)
  • Review of “Nanook of the North”

    I’ve just watched the so-called “first ever documentary” Nanook of the North (it’s more accurate to call it the first commercially successful doc).

    Sure, it’s been 100 years since director Robert J. Flaherty followed around those Inuits up in Northern Quebec as they built igloos and harpooned walruses, but age has not made Nanook past its sell-by date.

    This is reality TV before there was reality TV. Utterly gripping!

    So what happens? Well our star Nanook and his family do what they can to not die in frigid Canada.

    Lots of hunting seals, bears, fish. Lots of building snow huts.

    You know…glamping!

    Nanook wrestles with a large seal in a slightly problematic way PETA may have issue with today.

    But it’s impossible not to find this bearded gentleman extremely likable and chill.

    My man is up there smiling while kayaking, even as ice forms on his paddle. Burrr!

    My favorite parts are:

    • Family Canoe Scene — Fitting 5 people in what looks like a solo kayak.
    • Seal Hunting Sequence – Nanook finds a breathing hole in the ice (he knows Seals must breath every 20 minutes), waits with harpoon poised for a seal to emerge, strikes it, and holds the thrashing rope in a tense life-or-death tug of war.
    • Walrus Hunt – Hunters including Nanook slowly sneak up on sleeping walruses before suddenly attacking with harpoons. A fierce battle erupts as one speared walrus’s mate joins the fray to defend it.
    • Igloo Building – Step-by-step construction of an igloo dome structure using blocks of snow. Nanook then adds carefully carved ice window panels to the walls.
    • Dog/Puppy Igloo – Beyond the main family igloo, they build a smaller igloo to house the dogs, and within that, an igloo for the puppies.
    • The Playing the Record Scene — The director plays a phonograph for an amazed Nanook.

    “Nanook of the North” Controversy

    There is controversy over whether Nanook of the North was staged. Here’s what I know:

    • The Seal Hunt – There is some debate about whether the actual killing of the seal was faked (some think the animal was shot with a hidden gun instead of harpooned on camera) (“to affect the purity of his images of man against nature”, as Roger Ebert put it.
    • The Walrus Hunt – Flaherty has revealed that The Inuit performed the Walrus hunt for the camera at Flaherty’s direction.
    • Nanook’s real name is Allakariallak
    • Casting of Nanook’s “Family” – The women playing his wives were not actually his wives. And the children were not Nanook’s real children either, but were cast to play his son and baby daughter in the film.
    • Flaherty asking Nanook and family to build a fake igloo, open to sunlight, for better lighting. Source: Peter Cowie of The Wall Street Journal

    “Nanook of the North” Parody (Netflix)

    You know a doc is huge when it gets its own parody.

    Due to Nanook’s popularity, and controversy, The Documentary Now Netflix series did a parody of Nanook of the North called “Kunuk Uncovered” in 2015.

    Fred Armisen plays “Kunuk” and other stars are Bill Hader and Hellen Mirren.

    Here’s the parody video:

    You can watch it for free on YouTube by clicking the embed video above or clicking here:

    Or you can watch it on Netflix here: (it’s Season 1, Episode 2).

    Thanks for reading!

    Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac, Daily Doc