News Archive 2009-2018

Arctic Museum Releasing Donald MacMillan’s Historic Films of Greenland Archives


Video: ‘Hunting Musk-Ox with the Polar Eskimo

Nearly a century after they were shot, a series of short documentary films made by Donald B. MacMillan is being released by the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum & Arctic Studies Center. MacMillan created six short motion picture films documenting the lives of people in Greenland between 1923 and 1926.

The Museum is making these historic films available on DVD so modern audiences may enjoy them. They have also recently been made available for streaming via the Museum’s website. The movies, which were filmed and produced by MacMillan himself, were shot mostly in northwestern Greenland and show indigenous people going about their daily life.

Museum curator Genevieve LeMoine said this portrayal of the Inuit performing day-to-day activities like hunting, sewing, traveling by dog sled, repairing tools and caring for children, makes these motion pictures unique.

Unlike other films about the Arctic from that time period (Nanook of the North being the most famous of course), they don’t have a narrative, and a lot of the action was filmed as it was happening,” she said. “MacMillan sometimes asked people to demonstrate a tool, such as how a harpoon goes together, but most of what he filmed was what was going on around him. He did not ask people to act out a story, or impose any dramatic narrative. He wanted to show his viewers life in the north as he experienced it.”

One of the reasons for releasing these films on DVD instead of just streaming them, said LeMoine, is so copies can be sent to the northern communities of Greenland where they were shot, as they often don’t have enough bandwidth for video streaming.

These short movies, said LeMoine, would have been shown to audiences in libraries and lecture halls across America in the 1930s and 1940s. MacMillan was something of a celebrity at the time, she explained, and his lectures about his Arctic exploits often attracted hundreds of people.

The films have been preserved with support from The Library of Congress, Kane Lodge Foundation, Inc., and the National Film Preservation Foundation.

“Bowdoin College has thousands of feet of film,” said LeMoine, “mostly unedited, shot by MacMillan from 1921 right up until his last Arctic expedition in 1954. The early film is all 35mm black and white, while most of the later film is 16mm color. It’s a challenge to work with and also very valuable.”

“Donald B. MacMillan’s Historic Films of Greenland” will be screened October 12, 2017, in Sills Hall, Smith Auditorium at 7 p.m. Film archivist Audrey Kupferberg, who worked closely with museum staff to document and preserve the MacMillan collection, will introduce the films and provide context on their creation and preservation.