Considered the father of documentaries, Robert Flaherty famously filmed an Inuit named Nanook as he and his family struggled to survive in the Arctic. Except the Inuit’s name wasn’t Nanook, his family wasn’t his family and many events depicted in the film were staged for the camera. Despite this, Nanook of the North succeeded in transporting its viewers to another world as it chronicled a unique way of life played out against a vast expanse of ice and snow. Kabloonak achieves the same feat, with the same degree of competency and detachment.
After a brief opening featuring a despondent Flaherty, the film flashes back three years earlier to find the filmmaker arriving at Port Harrison, Hudson Bay in 1919. Three months pass and with the temperature at -20° he is still yet to shoot any film. An acclaimed Inuit hunter named Nanook agrees to take him on his next trek, despite Flaherty insisting that any animals must be killed with traditional weapons. It is the first of many accommodations the Inuits make for Flaherty, who discovers the frigid wasteland is not the most conducive environment for film making.
Like Nanook of the North, Kabloonak features many memorable scenes. A walrus hunt from the documentary is recreated and Flarherty’s sleight of hand is revealed in scenes depicting a seal hunt and life in an igloo. Yet there is remoteness and lack of warmth in the film that extends beyond its location. With Charles Dance giving his standard aloof performance opposite a cast of amateurs there is little chance for audience engagement, which is heightened by characters who treat each other as a curiosity. It is left to the minor character of trader Wisconsin to give voice to hazards of this culture clash, at least more so than Dance’s monotone narration achieves.
Nevertheless, Kabloonak (Inuit for 'white person') sheds light on a fascinating story and as such is worth seeking out despite its limitations.
Film ends with Flaherty reading a telegram informing him that Nanook had died of starvation following a disastrous hunting season. Though this is the story Flarherty himself told, Naoonk (Allakariallak) actually died at home, most likely the victim of tuberculosis introduced by foreigners.
Film recreates several scenes from Nanook of the North, including the walrus hunt, seal hunt and igloo build.