Flaherty, Robert J.

Flaherty, Robert J. (Joseph)

(1884–1951) documentary filmmaker; born in Iron Mountain, Mich. From 1910 to 1916 he made a series of expeditions in northern Canada as an explorer and mining prospector. He returned to Eskimo country in 1920 with his camera and equipment, and the result was Nanook of the North (1922). He went on to make Moana (1926), a South Seas documentary; Man of Aran (1934), in Ireland; Elephant Boy (1937), in India; and Louisiana Story (1948), shot in the bayous of that state. His wife, Frances Flaherty assisted him on several films, but his attempts at collaborating with other directors on feature films—except with Zoltan Korda on Elephant Boy —did not pan out. Recognized as a pioneer in his day—the word "documentary" was first applied to his Moana —he came to be regarded more as a romantic interpreter of his subjects than as a "pure" documentarian.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.