[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-Environment]: Pickman on Kaganovsky and Mackenzie and Stenport, 'Arctic Cinemas and the Documentary Ethos'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Fri Jan 3 08:01:03 MST 2020



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Andrew Stewart 
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Begin forwarded message:

> From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
> Date: January 3, 2020 at 9:52:11 AM EST
> To: h-review at lists.h-net.org
> Cc: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.org>
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-Environment]: Pickman on Kaganovsky and Mackenzie and Stenport, 'Arctic Cinemas and the Documentary Ethos'
> Reply-To: h-review at lists.h-net.org
> 
> Lilya Kaganovsky, Scott Mackenzie, Anna Westerstahl Stenport, eds.  
> Arctic Cinemas and the Documentary Ethos.  Bloomington  Indiana 
> University Press, 2019.  372 pp.  $36.00 (paper), ISBN 
> 978-0-253-04030-5.
> 
> Reviewed by Sarah Pickman (Yale University)
> Published on H-Environment (January, 2020)
> Commissioned by Daniella McCahey
> 
> In contemporary news media and popular culture, images of the Arctic 
> often stand in for the worldwide effects of global warming. Films of 
> hungry polar bears and shrinking glaciers are ubiquitous, acting as 
> "agents provocateurs addressing climate change" (p. 2). Yet films 
> about the Arctic have long served provocative purposes, intended to 
> spur audiences to nationalist pride, support for colonialism, or 
> sympathy for Indigenous peoples. Any scholar wishing to understand 
> this broader history would be well served by reading _Arctic Cinemas 
> and the Documentary Ethos_, a new multiauthor volume edited by Lilya 
> Kaganovsky, Scott MacKenzie, and Anna Westerstahl Stenport. In this 
> book, contributors from a variety of academic and professional 
> backgrounds unpack historic and contemporary Arctic documentary 
> films, discussing how filmmakers from the early twentieth century to 
> the present have contended with representing the Arctic to the wider 
> world. In doing so, they attempt to wrestle with what the editors 
> describe as the "documentary ethos"--motivations filmmakers have to 
> impart knowledge about the world to audiences--in the context of 
> depicting the Far North on screen. A discussion of ethos is 
> critically important to films about the Arctic, which have 
> historically portrayed both the region's environment and its peoples 
> as radical Others, for the purposes of convincing audiences outside 
> the Arctic of the need for exploration, colonization, and resource 
> extraction in the Far North. The nineteen chapters in _Arctic 
> Cinemas_ engage in a "purposeful heterogeneity" (p. 2), moving 
> roughly chronologically from the early twentieth century to the 
> present day, and covering a variety of national and international 
> contexts and documentary subgenres.  
> 
> As the editors note in their introductory chapter, the Arctic is 
> "indebted to, integrated within, and inseparable from" the history of 
> documentary film (p. 1). On the one hand this is because, as Russell 
> Potter has written, the Arctic is largely an "unseen country"--even 
> today it remains an area visited by relatively few outsiders. Thus, 
> for most people globally, any conception they have of the Arctic has 
> been shaped not by direct experience but by their consumption of 
> media about the region, especially documentary films.[1] On the other 
> hand, directors working in the Arctic have been foundational in 
> shaping documentary film. Indeed, American director Robert Flaherty's 
> 1922 silent movie _Nanook of the North_, filmed on the Ungava 
> Peninsula of northern Quebec, is generally considered to be one of 
> the first films in what came to be called the "documentary" genre, if 
> not _the_ first. _Nanook_ is typically credited with cementing many 
> of the conventions of the documentary in addition to profoundly 
> influencing how outsiders perceive the Arctic, its environmental 
> conditions, and its Indigenous inhabitants.  
> 
> Not surprisingly, there are few chapters in _Arctic Cinemas_ that do 
> not reference _Nanook_ or Flaherty in some way. For many of the 
> authors in this volume, Flaherty is a starting point to discuss how 
> indigenous Arctic peoples have typically been portrayed in 
> documentaries--primitive, naive, struggling valiantly against a harsh 
> environment yet hopelessly vulnerable to cultural incursions from 
> further south--and how these portrayals have created lasting damage 
> by spurring colonial assimilationist attitudes and government 
> policies. Yet one of the strengths of _Arctic Cinemas_ is the amount 
> of space it dedicates to examining recent Indigenous-produced films. 
> Here, Flaherty's documentary and other similar films serve as foils 
> to the recent work of Indigenous filmmakers, who counter harmful 
> stereotypes about their communities by creating nuanced, 
> contextualized depictions of contemporary native life in the Far 
> North. For example, Faye Ginsburg's chapter discusses the work of 
> Canadian Inuit directors such as Zacharias Kunuk (best known for the 
> award-winning 2001 feature film _Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner_) and 
> his collaborators. In addition to his filmmaking, Kunuk is part of 
> the team that launched Isuma TV in 2008, a web platform capable of 
> broadcasting videos through local cable or low-power channels, 
> allowing the work of Inuit filmmakers to reach audiences across the 
> Far North where access to high-speed internet connections is patchy 
> at best. Judy Wolfe's chapter profiles Inuit activist and filmmaker 
> Alethea Arnaquq-Baril. Arnaquq-Baril's lauded 2016 documentary _Angry 
> Inuk_, which examines the catastrophic effects of anti-seal hunting 
> legislation and activism on Indigenous Arctic communities, is 
> described by Wolfe as "the best lobbying tool the Inuit have produced 
> to represent them in the [seal-hunting] debate" (p. 287). Flaherty's 
> _Nanook_ may have given the world a depiction of Indigenous people 
> hopelessly adrift in the modern world, yet Ginsburg and Wolfe's 
> chapters show how contemporary Inuit filmmakers not only create work 
> that counters this depiction, but also actively use film to address 
> the challenges of contemporary Indigenous life in the Arctic. 
> 
> Another strength of this volume is variety of Arctic regions and 
> cultural experiences discussed. The editors note in their 
> introduction that one of their goals has been to challenge "the 
> notion of 'the Arctic' as a unified singularity that elides the 
> heterogeneous environmental, political, geographic, historical, and 
> cultural differences that characterize the region" (p. 1). Such an 
> intervention is needed, as a great deal of the English-language 
> scholarship on the Arctic still focuses only on Alaska, Canada, and 
> Greenland. Several essays here cover Soviet and post-Soviet films on 
> Siberia, such as the work of Dziga Vertov, Elena Demidova, and Ivan 
> Golovnev (covered in essays by Lilya Kaganovsky and Oksana 
> Sarkisova). Other chapters discuss Nordic filmmakers working in 
> northern Scandinavia, including Swedish documentarian Arne Sucksdorff 
> (discussed by Scott MacKenzie) and Sámi directors such as 
> Ellen-Astri Lundby and Britt Kramvig (described in chapters by Monica 
> Mecsei and Kramvig and Rachel Andersen Gomez). There is also breadth 
> in the variety of documentary subgenres that are examined in _Arctic 
> Cinemas_, from mid-century American government films that promoted US 
> military intervention in the Arctic (Kevin Hamilton and Ned O'Gorman, 
> in a chapter that will be of particular interest to Cold War 
> historians) to the 2015 "mockumentary" _Kunuk Uncovered_, a comedic 
> short film that pokes fun at Flaherty (the first section of Faye 
> Ginsburg's chapter). Helpfully, each chapter concludes with both a 
> bibliography and a filmography that explains where the movies 
> mentioned in the chapter can be accessed.  
> 
> _Arctic Cinemas_ is a thorough exploration of the inexorable links 
> between the circumpolar regions and historic and contemporary 
> documentary filmmaking. It will be valuable to Arctic humanities 
> specialists, particularly as a welcome addition to scholarship on 
> visual depictions of the Arctic by authors such as Ann 
> Fienup-Riordan, Richard Condon, Russell Potter, and Peter Geller, as 
> well as Mackenzie and Westerstahl Steport's earlier co-edited volume, 
> _Films on Ice_. It will also be of use to anyone interested in ways 
> of studying linkages between filmmaking, environments, and local and 
> outsider communities. 
> 
> Note 
> 
> [1]. Russell Potter, _Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual 
> Culture, 1818-1875_ (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007), 
> 3. 
> 
> Citation: Sarah Pickman. Review of Kaganovsky, Lilya; Mackenzie, 
> Scott; Stenport, Anna Westerstahl, eds., _Arctic Cinemas and the 
> Documentary Ethos_. H-Environment, H-Net Reviews. January, 2020.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54393
> 
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States 
> License.
> 
> 



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