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Overview for Robert Flaherty
Robert Flaherty

Robert Flaherty


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Also Known As: Robert Joseph Flaherty,Robert J. Flaherty Died: July 23, 1951
Born: February 16, 1884 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Iron Mountain, Michigan, USA Profession: Director ... documentarian director of photography producer narrator editor director screenwriter explorer


A mineralogist and explorer turned pioneering documentarist, Robert Flaherty shot material for his first film, a study of the Belcher Islands, in 1917 but the footage was accidentally destroyed by fire. Undeterred, he planned another film, on Eskimo life, and received backing from the Revillon Freres fur company to make "Nanook of the North" (1922). An engaging chronicle of the day-to-day existence of one family, "Nanook" became an international success despite initial skepticism on the part of distributors. It also represented a landmark in the development of the documentary, thanks to its use of elements associated with narrative film: Flaherty structured the work around a storyline, directed the Eskimos in scenes "staged" for the benefit of the camera, and made sophisticated use of techniques including close-ups, tilts and pans. The success of "Nanook" earned Flaherty studio backing to make the lyrical Polynesian documentary "Moana" (1926), which was praised by critics but justly attacked by anthropologists as a poetic fantasy rather than an accurate representation of island life.

Flaherty went on to co-direct the narrative feature "White Shadows of the South Seas" (1928) with W.S. Van Dyke and to collaborate with F.W. Murnau on "Tabu" (1931), though he withdrew from both projects before completion. In 1931 he immigrated to England, where he exerted a significant influence on John Grierson and the British "social documentary" movement of the 1930s. Flaherty's best-known British film was "Man of Aran" (1934), a lyrical study of an Irish fisherman and his daily struggle for survival.

Flaherty later returned to the US and made two more highly acclaimed documentaries, "The Land" (1942), for the US Information Service, and "Louisiana Story" (1948), for Standard Oil.

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