Read our latest news stories
1st July 2010, 2:37pm
Film profiling the “father of the documentary” premieres
Flaherty at 60 Controversial American documentary-maker Robert Flaherty is the subject of a feature-length film premiering at the star-studded Galway Film Festival on 7 July.

Co-produced by the University of Lincoln, A Boatload of Wild Irishmen explores the moral complexities of the man credited with being the father of the modern documentary after he produced and directed Nanook of the North in 1922.

Boatload has been produced by Irish film-maker Mac Dara O’Curraidhin with the University’s Professor Brian Winston as its associate producer and writer. The film draws heavily on Professor Winston’s academic research into the documentary.

He said: “Flaherty was the first to work out how to transform film of real people going about their everyday lives from mere shapeless surveillance-camera observation into a dramatic, enthralling narrative: and that, in essence, is what documentary is. This was a brilliant breakthrough, but it can cause real moral dilemmas.”

Flaherty’s third documentary feature was shot in 1934 on the Aran Islands off Ireland. For its climax, he filmed a frail boat battling a monstrous Atlantic sea and later recalled “I have been accused of trying to drown a boatload of wild Irishmen off Aran” – hence the title of the new film.

Boatload, which was made with investment and support from the Irish Film Board and TG4 (Irish Language Television) EM Media, screen agency for the East Midlands, and Brussels will initially be shown on television in Ireland, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands. There is an Irish version (entitled An t-Éireannach Fáin) as well as an English version.

According to Prof Winston, Flaherty was a flawed genius, who was celebrated until his death as the first person to manipulate beautiful footage into a story, but who faced accusations of unprofessional working practices, racism, exploitation and inauthenticity after he died.

Nanook of the North follows the lives of Innuit people but Flaherty used actors to play the family, staged events and carefully omitted all references to the modern world – or at least tried to.

Prof Winston added: “At an academic conference some years ago, my Canadian colleague Seth Feldman pointed out to me the rifle on the beach when Nanook has supposedly harpooned the walrus.

“Some years later, at another conference, someone put up a photo of a striking woman and calmly announced it was Robert Flaherty’s illegitimate grand-daughter from his relationship with the woman who played Nanook’s wife. She was well-known in Canada, but not by the rest of us.”

The team behind Boatload tracked down Martha, Flaherty’s grand-daughter, and she appears in the film.

Colleagues from the University’s Media, Humanities and Technology Faculty also worked on Boatload. Senior lecturer and former BBC editor Chris Hainstock edited it and Kay Marriott was its production manager retracing Flaherty’s steps around the world – from the Arctic to Samoa.

Brightspark Productions, a company at the University's Enterprise business incubation unit, provided the production services and another, Electric Egg, designed the animated graphics. Media Production Graduate Andrew Deptford of Brightspark was the production assistant for the film.

The film will be shown at the Galway Film Fleadh with a screening of Man of Arran. Three times Oscar-nominated actress Annette Bening will be the main guest at this year’s festival alongside Billy Elliot director Stephen Daldry, and Ronald Harwood, who wrote the script for Being Julia.

The Galway Film Fleadh runs from 6 to 11 July. Man of Arran will be screened at 12 noon, followed by A Boatload of Wild Irishmen. For more details visit

Tweet this story Share on Facebook