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Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner Meets Nanook of the North

By Bram Morrison

As I was researching Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner in the context of the history of cinema, the film Nanook of the North kept popping up. I had since childhood thought of “Nanook” as the name you called your friend all dressed up in parka and boots, frolicking in the snow—a meme whose origin I never understood. My mind has been straightened out on this subject.

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner
Mon, Jan 9, 11am
2 hours, 52 minutes plus intermission
Benefit for the Biblioteca Project of Amistad Canada
Inuktitut (formerly called Eskimo) language
English subtitles
Teatro Santa Ana
Reloj 50A
100 pesos, additional contributions welcomed

Nanook of the North, a silent film from 1922, was the first full-length documentary in cinema history. Robert J Flaherty from Michigan spent a year in Ungava, Arctic Canada, filming the life and world of Nanook (“The Bear”) and his family. This film is a significant portrayal of Inuit life at the beginning of the 20th century, after the Europeans had arrived, for better or for worse. It presents a number of aspects of the Inuit culture that the makers of Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner chose not to explore in deference to the powerful narrative of their film. Some examples: fishing and hunting, especially for walrus and seal; igloo building with ice windows for light; and how to transport an entire family in a single kayak—to my mind, the most humorous moment in the film!

Having spent the month of July 1967, Canada’s Centennial Year, on concert tour in the Eastern Arctic, including in Igloolik, where the action of Atanarjuat took place, I believe that these two films, almost a century apart, together give the best picture of traditional life of the Inuit people available to the general public. I strongly recommend seeing Nanook either before or after viewing Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. Each film complements the other.

Atanarjuat screens at El Teatro Santa Ana, Biblioteca Pública on January 9 at 11am.

You can view the full film Nanook of the North on YouTube:

Learn more about Nanook of the North on the IMDb website:


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