subjects of personal interest

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Netsilik Eskimo Series- documentaries by Quentin Brown

The Netsilik Eskimo Series of documentaries (1967), directed by Quentin Brown,
are, in my opinion, the best documentary films ever created.
There is no polical message here, no clever marketing scheme, no depressing account of the world's ecological demise- just an endearing family of Netsilik Eskimos going through their daily routines.
I originally saw some of this series when I was at 18 in an anthropology course.
It was a life-changing experience for me.

These beautifully-simple films bring a completely foreign, but totally real, culture to life.
The films documented the daily survival of the family in the Far-North, over the course of a year. They take us, as the viewers, through the annual migration of the Netsilik people. A people who, up until the mid 1900's, lived like this with hardly any knowledge of the rest of modern people. With only a few metal tools, this family survives the year living in the traditional manner, traveling to the food sources available depending upon the time of year.

I would say these have been some of the most enlightening films I have ever viewed. Life may have a lot of difficulties in our current human condition of imperfection, however, very little with regard to possessions is required to live. These films help to remind me that, with a simple lifestyle and a supportive family, everything will be fine. The Netsilik family work hard at the tasks at hand and make it through each day- one day at a time. They seem to enjoy the daily activities and the company of each other.

These are not action films... They are slow-paced; it's like spending the day, the year, with a family from the far north as an invisible viewer.
One thing that really appeals to me is that no soundtrack was added to distract from the natural sounds of their environment and activity.
It is a documentary series of films in the purest and most beautiful form; a piece of media masterpiece that helps me to stay human.
I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!

There are many more of these short films in the Netsilik Eskimo Series. Unfortunately the price to own them on DVD is ridiculous ($650+) or else I would definitely own a copy. Nevertheless, I'm happy to be able to put this short playlist in order thanks to the website which had made all of these available to embed here on my blog. You can visit the NFB website to view other cultural anthropology films.

I have attempted to facilitate viewing the series by arranging the links into chronological order so that you can enjoy learning about this culture without too much distraction.
If you know of a method to include more of these Netsilik Eskimo videos on this page, please leave a comment and let me know. Thanks. Enjoy!

1967 (31 minutes 56 seconds) In this short documentary about the Netsilik Inuit, more wildlife returns as winter draws to an end. The family is now living in a karmak. The man chips a hole on the lake ice and jigs the line to attract the fish. His wife joins him, and both remain at the hole through a severe blizzard.

1967 (26 minutes 40 seconds) Inuit families travel across the sea ice. Before night falls, they build igloos. A boy practices throwing his spear at a figure he has made in the snow. A woman crimps the sole of a sealskin boot she is making.

1967 (26 minutes 36 seconds) Men hunt seal through the sea ice. A hunter strikes, and takes his catch home to skin. A polar bear skin is pegged out to dry, and people nibble on raw fish from the cache.

1967 (26 minutes 35 seconds) A hunter, travelling alone with sled and dogs, snares and kills a squirrel. In camp, a sled is made from a polar bear skin. The family breaks camp, and moves ashore for the summer.



1967 (34 minutes 15 seconds) It is late June and much of the land is bare. There is plenty of activity in the camp as a man fashions a bow from bone and sinews while the children play. The following day the men move out on the sea ice to look for seal pups.

1967 (27 minutes 56 seconds) The men are out on the sea ice and the women work at tasks at the camp, such as drying out the sealskins, cooking sea gulls, gathering moss as fuel. Everyone ends up playing a juggling game.

1967 (33 minutes) The men are out on the ice catching seals and relishing their liver and blood. Upon their return, the women cut away the blubber from the meat and everyone sits down to eat.

1967 (30 minutes 20 seconds) It is the height of summer. The skin tents are up, and it is time to fish. The men go into the river to form enclosures to trap fish. Once trapped, they are speared with three-pronged leisters. A woman cleans the catch, which has been strung on a thong. Everyone enjoys bits of raw fish.

1967 (26 minutes 54 seconds) The summer fishing continues. The plentiful catch is stored in stone caches after the women have cleaned it. Some of the fish is cooked in a stone pot.

1967 length: 32 minutes 20 seconds An Inuit depicts the initial steps in the construction of a kayak. The run-off is in full flow and it is time for the Inuit to build a watercraft. The whole family is involved in shaping this invaluable tool.

1967 length: 32 minutes 46 seconds

1967 (30 minutes 17 seconds) The time is early autumn, the place an Inuit camp in the Pelly Bay region of the Canadian Arctic. A woman, a boy and two men are shown occupied with their various activities. A woman works on caribou skins. Men return from the hunt with another caribou. A boy picks berries and then plays at being a hunter.

1967 (29 minutes 27 seconds)  Two men join the four people at camp. The men build a row of inukshuit, manlike figures which they use to deflect the oncoming caribou into the water, where they are subsequently speared and floated ashore. A great feast follows.

1967 (26 minutes 18 seconds) It is late autumn. The Inuit move to the river valley where they build karmaks--shelters with snow walls and roofs of skins. The men fish with spears and their catch is cooked over an exterior fire. The family then eats inside the karmaks.

1967 (33 minutes 6 seconds) The family moves once again, this time into an igloo built by the men. A sleigh is constructed from skins, frozen fish and caribou antlers. When ready, it is loaded and the family heads down the river to the coast.

1967 (35 minutes 42 seconds) The Inuit family stop their trek and make camp. It is late winter when the cold is severe. The men cut blocks for an igloo while the women shovel the site. During the day, the men sit patiently on the ice, waiting for seals.

1967 (36 minutes 16 seconds) Life at the campsite. Children amuse themselves with makeshift toys. Women tend their children, make clothes, and repair the igloos. When the men return with their catch, everyone goes inside where work, story-telling and games occupy each one's time.

1967 (30 minutes 14 seconds) Work begins on a spacious community igloo. When the men return to their hunt, the women continue with their work and play games with the children. A seal is dragged into the igloo to be shared by everyone, including the dogs, who are called in to clean up.

1967 (34 minutes 40 seconds) The life of the community inside the igloo. A stone chip is removed from a woman's eye. Men and women gamble at spear-the-peg game. The day ends with a drum performance. The next day the big igloo is deserted and the Inuit are again trekking over the broad expanse of sea ice.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing and enlightening story Doug! Thanks so much for posting it! It is amazing to think of how much we really don't "need" as these people so aptly showed. I really enjoyed watching them build the igloo, watching the way the family worked so well together with their daily "chores" and listening to the little boy giggle. I was almost hoping for subtitles as the boy was watching the mother with the salmon eyes and the subsequent action that followed! :)
    Wonderful story of a resilent people that showed how it is truly possible to survive, and even thrive off the land.