Eskimo (1933) – Inuit Culture on Film

Alaskan actor Ray Mala (aka Mala, on right) stars in the 1933 MGM film ESKIMO.

Alaskan actor Ray Mala (aka Mala, on right) stars in the 1933 MGM film ESKIMO.

How many famous or highly regarded films about the Inuit culture can you name? Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922) is probably at the top of the list but what else? The 1955 Oscar-nominated documentary Where Mountains Float, Nicholas Ray’s The Savage Innocents (1960), Zacharias Kunuk’s 2001 epic, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001), and Mike Magidson’s Inuk (2010) are all impressive achievements which need to be better known. But one of the most moving and evocative films is from 1933 entitled Eskimo, a word which is now an outdated and offensive reference to the Inuit and Yupik tribes who populate the Arctic Circle and northern bordering regions.   Continue reading

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The Original Odd Couple

Robert J. Flaherty (left) and W.S. Van Dyke collaborated on White Shadows in the South Seas (1928).

Robert J. Flaherty (left) and W.S. Van Dyke collaborated on White Shadows in the South Seas (1928).

Either by accident or design, MGM came up with the most unlikely partnership in the history of motion pictures in the late twenties. Imagine if you can a collaboration between Robert Flaherty, the filmmaker who is generally credited with pioneering the documentary form (though some film scholars take issue with that classification), and W. S. Van Dyke II, who was known in the industry as “One Take Woody” because of his quick, cost-saving shooting schedule. Flaherty’s filmmaking method was just the opposite. His painstaking preparation for each film was legendary; both Nanook of the North (1922) and Moana (1926) took over two years to complete. Somehow these two men were brought together by MGM mogul Irving J. Thalberg for White Shadows in the South Seas (1928).   Continue reading