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Nanook of the North Review

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

OK for kids 12+

Excellent early documentary has some hunting violence.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Nanook of the North is a 1922 documentary -- considered by many to be the first -- and is a culturally sensitive chronicle of an Inuit family's struggles to survive in harsh Arctic conditions. As such, there are many scenes where Nanook and other hunters are shown killing animals like seals, foxes, walruses, and fish. These killings may be too graphic for younger viewers, but for teens and adults interested in documentary films, it's is an essential masterpiece.

  • Families can talk about how cultural similarities and differences are presented in the film. Can you relate to any of the family's experiences? Since this is a silent film, how is the text used to explain background, to set scenes, to explain what Nanook is doing and why?
  • What challenges and difficulties do you think the director, Robert J. Flaherty, faced as he spent a year filming the daily lives of Nanook and his family?
  • Since this is considered to be the first documentary film, what similarities and differences do you see between this and other documentaries you have seen?

The good stuff
  • message true3

    Messages: Despite the harsh and unforgiving climate and the difficulties Nanook and his family have in finding food and shelter, they are often shown smiling, laughing, and content with their difficult relationship with nature. The film reinforces the idea that other cultures have something to teach us.

  • rolemodels true4

    Role models: Throughout the documentary, Nanook appears to be happy and content, much happier than most people who endure trials far less harrowing than what Nanook goes through to find food and shelter for his family.

What to watch for
  • violence false3

    Violence: As a documentary about an Inuit leader's day-to-day existence in the early 20th century, this film includes scenes where seals, walruses, foxes, and fish are hunted, killed, skinned, and eaten. Nanook is also shown flailing at his sled dogs to stop them from fighting and misbehaving.

  • sex false1

    Sex: Brief nonsexual nudity as Nanook and his family prepare for sleep in their igloo.

  • language false0

    Language: Not an issue

  • consumerism false0

    Consumerism: Not an issue

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false0

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Not an issue