Arctic Cinemas and the Documentary Ethos

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Beginning with Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North (1922), the majority of films that have been made in, about, and by filmmakers from the Arctic region have been documentary cinema. Focused on a hostile environment that few people visit, these documentaries have heavily shaped ideas about the contemporary global Far North. In Arctic Cinemas and the Documentary Ethos, contributors from a variety of scholarly and artistic backgrounds come together to provide a comprehensive study of Arctic documentary cinemas from a transnational perspective. This book offers a thorough analysis of the concept of the Arctic as it is represented in documentary filmmaking, while challenging the notion of "The Arctic" as a homogenous entity that obscures the environmental, historical, geographic, political, and cultural differences that characterize the region. By examining how the Arctic is imagined, understood, and appropriated in documentary work, the contributors argue that such films are key in contextualizing environmental, indigenous, political, cultural, sociological, and ethnographic understandings of the Arctic, from early cinema to the present. Understanding the role of these films becomes all the more urgent in the present day, as conversations around resource extraction, climate change, and sovereignty take center stage in the Arctic's representation.



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Published 18 February 2019
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EAN13 9780253040329
Language English
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Edited by Lilya kaganovsy, Scott Mackenzie, and Anna Westerstahl Stenport
This book is a publication of
Indiana University Press Office of Scholarly Publishing Herman B Wells Library 350 1320 East 10th Street Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA
© 2019 by Indiana University Press
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992. Manufactured in the United States of America Cataloging information is available from the Library of Congress.
ISBN 978-0-253-04029-9 (cloth) ISBN 978-0-253-04030-5 (paperback) ISBN 978-0-253-04031-2 (ebook) 1 2 3 4 5 24 23 22 21 20 19
Note on Transliteration
Introduction: The Documentary Ethos and the Arctic / Lilya Kaganovsky, Scott MacKenzie, and Anna Westerstahl Stenport 1 The History Lesson in Amundsen’s 1910–12 Film Footage / Jane M. Gaines 2 “The Threshold of the Visible World”: Dziga Vertov’sA Sixth Part of the World(1926) / Lilya Kaganovsky 3 Women Arctic Explorers: In Front of and Behind the Camera / Mariah Larsson and Anna Westerstahl Stenport 4 Arctic Expressionism and the Poetic Documentary: The Northern Films of Arne Sucksdorff / Scott MacKenzie
5 Aid, Appropriation, and Amnesia: Documentary Film and the Arctic Convoys of World War II / Jeremy Hicks 6 Engineering Geographies: The Arctic in the Cold War Air Defense Films of the US Air Force / Kevin Hamilton and Ned O’Gorman 7 Documenting Greenland: Popular Geopolitics on Film / Klaus Dodds and Rikke Bjerg Jensen
8 Storm Chasers and Adrenaline Tourists: Reimagining the Arctic in the New Norwegian Polar Expedition Film / Gunnar Iversen 9 The Two Lives of Expo 67’sPolar Life(La Vie polaire) / Monika Kin Gagnon 10 Documenting the Arctic Sublime / Michael Renov
11 “It Looks Like the Surface of the Moon”: The Arctic Landscape in the Western Imaginary / Noelle Belanger 12 Moving through the Century: The Far North in Soviet and Contemporary Russian Nonfiction / Oksana Sarkisova 13 Isuma TV, Visual Sovereignty, and the Arctic Media World / Faye Ginsburg 14 Making Films for Her Community: Alethea Arnaquq-Baril / Judy Wolfe 15Martha of the Northand Nunavik Narratives of Survivance / Karine Bertrand 16 Hybrid First-Person Sámi Documentaries: Identity Construction and Contact Zones in the Twenty-First Century / Monica Mecsei 17 From Dreamland to Homeland: A Journey toward Futures Different than Pasts / Britt Kramvig and Rachel Andersen Gomez 18 Reconciling the Past: Greenlandic Documentary in the Twenty-First Century / Ivalo Frank 19 The Arctic Doesn’t Matter / Toby Miller
HE IDEA FOR THIS BOOK BEGAN WITH THAErctic Cinemas and the Documentary Ethos T conference held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2015. This major international conference was organized with the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, SIU: Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education, and the following units at the University of Illinois: the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs and Global Strategies; the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; the Spurlock Museum; the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures; the School of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics; the European Union Center; the Center for Advanced Study; the Program in Comparative and World Literature; the College of Fine and Applied Arts; the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory; the Department of Communication; Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center; the Center for Global Studies; the Scandinavian Studies Program; and the Department of Media and Cinema Studies. We are grateful to all the participants and cosponsors for making possible the lively intellectual conversation, panels, film screenings, and the exhibition of the Crocker Land Expedition Photographs of the Spurlock Museum, all of which have informed this book. The editors furthermore wish to thank the anonymous readers at Indiana University Press who provided insightful commentary; the Swedish Film Institute for film digitization; University of Illinois research assistants Noelle Belanger and Carlo Di-Giulio for expert manuscript compilation assistance; Xenia Reloba de la Cruz for her diligent work on the index; Richard Leskosky for film archival assistance; the Spurlock Museum’s education and publications coordinator Beth Watkins; the Conrad Humanities Professorial Fund at the University of Illinois; the Fund for Scholarly Research and Creative Work and Professional Development, the Senate Advisory Research Award, and the Department of Film and Media at Queen’s University; and the School of Modern Languages and the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at Georgia Institute of Technology.
HE TsmiarofaeribadtylinikoobSIHTNIDEUSCLIILYRCOMFRETMSSYITNOETARNSLIRA T the text and accuracy in the notes. Russian names in the text are given in their conventional English-language spelling to render them more accessible (thus, Eisenstein, not Eizenshtein; Igor, not Igor’), while the Library of Congress system of transliteration is followed in all other instances. In translating titles of Russian films, we have also inserted articles where English fluency requires them.
INTRODUCTION The Documentary Ethos and the Arctic
Lilya Kaganovsky, Scott MacKenzie, and Anna Westerstahl Stenport
RCTIC CINEMAS AND THEDOCUMENTARY ETHOS PROVIDES A comprehensive study of A Arctic documentary cinemas from a transnational, global perspective. The book addresses key issues facing the study of Arctic documentary moving images, both those made in the Global North and those that appropriate the North for their own aesthetic, cultural, or political ends. Documentary cinema has constituted the majority of films that have been made by, in, and about the region, and it is one of the most influential conduits in the construction of an Arctic imaginary. For these reasons,Arctic Cinemas and the Documentary Ethos offers a wide range of examples of the Arctic as it is represented in documentary filmmaking writ large, while challenging the notion of “the Arctic” as a unified singularity that elides the heterogeneous environmental, political, geographic, historical, and cultural differences that characterize the region. This transnational, interdisciplinary approach examines how the Arctic is imagined, understood, and appropriated, both cinematically and ideologically, throughout documentary film history. Arctic Cinemas and the Documentary Ethosenvironmental, Indigenous, political, contextualizes cultural, sociological, and ethnographic understandings of the Arctic, making three primary contributions in the process. First, it demonstrates the centrality of the Arctic to documentary cinema by reconceptualizing the history of documentary as one that is indebted to, integrated within, and inseparable from documentary images made in, about, and for the circumpolar North, as well as to the scholarship written about these images. Contained within the Arctic documentary tradition are some of the most important documentary themes and films produced during the founding of the field in the 1920s and 1930s: for example, the opposition between the “formalism” of Dziga Vertov and the “realism” of Robert Flaherty, whose “creative treatment of actuality” (Grierson 2014) inNanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, United States, 1922) became the dominant touchstone for how documentary theory and practice were conceptualized during the following century. Similarly, some of the most formative and compelling examples of ethnographic, propagandistic, observational, experimental, participatory, activist, Indigenous, and environmental documentary engage in Arctic moving-image production, including, in the twenty-first century, films that function as agents provocateurs addressing climate change, fromAn Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, United States, 2006) toChasing IceOrlowski, United (Jeff States, 2012) and the Inuit Indigenous works of the Isuma and Arnait collectives in Nunavut. Second,Arctic Cinemas and the Documentary Ethos frames Arctic documentaries as a singularly important case study because they encompass genres, forms, production contexts, circulation, politics, and public perceptions that have been central to documentary cinema and theory from its inception. The book thereby tells the history of Arctic representation in a comparative and historical context, articulating how the Arctic has been mobilized by different national traditions, transnational relations, and Indigenous knowledge systems.Arctic Cinemas and the Documentary Ethos also engages in a purposeful heterogeneity among its topics and contributors, since the breadth, wealth, and significance of this tradition cannot be told in any other way. In sum, this book argues that Arctic documentary is central to documentary film theory and history, yet until now, it has not been understood as such. Third, this book examines a key assumption in film history, namely, that the documentary form has an ethos—an undergirding set of beliefs, practices, and ideologies—and that this ethos needs to be examined from the perspective of films made in, about, and for the global circumpolar North. Not all documentary aims to be ethical, but, in comparison to other forms of cinematic expression, documentary seeks to portray the world—including its challenges and problems, whether in a transparently realist manner or one that offers a self-reflexive point of view—as a means to impart new knowledge and information. Scrutinizing such notions of the documentary ethos is central to the book, because many dominant assumptions of documentary, exploration, (self-)representation, identity politics, intersectionality, and visualization coalesce in and around the stories told about the Arctic. We argue throughoutArctic Cinemas and the Documentary Ethosit is imperative to undertake this inquiry because of the rich that history of Arctic documentary and its influence on filmmaking around the world. Examining the documentary ethos with respect to the Arctic region—continuously imagined as an “ultimate otherworld” (McGhee 2007, 19) or as a blank slate for imagination, as well as exploitation—is even more urgent in the present day, as questions of resource extraction, climate change, and sovereignty take center stage. Throughout the history of Arctic documentary filmmaking, the question of ethos has been paramount, if