Main content

A Boatload of Wild Irishmen

Robert Flaherty (1884-1951) was the man credited with being the father of the modern documentary film after he produced and directed 'Nanook of the North' in 1922. Flaherty is one of the great name directors in the history of cinema and to this day films such as 'Nanook of the North', 'Moana', 'Man of Aran' and 'Louisiana Story' are widely regarded as classics and still regularly screened.

Flaherty is also a controversial figure in that he was also the first to show that filming the everyday life of real people could be molded into dramatic, entertaining narratives. The minute he chose to stage scenes in order to make a better film out of his seminal Inuit project 'Nanook of the North', he was opening documentary's Pandora's Box. And with his later work in Samoa, the Aran Islands and Louisiana first raised such enduring topics of documentary ethics as ethnographic falsification, exploitation of one's subjects and the perils of corporate sponsorship.

But this entertaining portrait of Flaherty shrewdly looks beyond standard polemical positions to present a complex view of the man and his work (shown in vivid excerpts).

A BOATLOAD OF WILD IRISHMEN includes testimony from Flaherty himself as well as contributions from amongst others, Richard Leacock - cameraman on 'Louisiana Story' (1948) and father of the contemporary hand-held documentary style, Martha Flaherty - Flaherty's Inuit granddaughter, George Stoney - documentary filmmaker and professor at New York University, Sean Crosson - film scholar at the Huston School of Film, Jay Ruby - anthropologist and film scholar at Temple University, and Deirdre Ni Chonghaile - musician and folklorist from Arainn, as well as telling interviews with the people whose parents and grandparents Flaherty put onto the cinema screens of the world: Inuit, Samoans and, of obvious personal interest to the Irish filmmakers, the 'wild men' of Aran.

'A long overdue portrait...A BOATLOAD OF WILD IRISHMEN makes a particularly important contribution in that it captures some of the histories that have been created, sustained, and recreated by those most closely effected by Flaherty's films.' -Leonardo Digital Reviews

'The film carefully addresses the meaning of documentary within the context of film history and Flaherty's relationship with colleagues and the film industry itself...It should be viewed by everyone interested in the history of documentary film.' -Educational Media Reviews Online

'Informative and evenhanded, A Boatload of Wild Irish is a satisfying survey of Flaherty's work and controversies.' -Libertas Film Magazine


Main credits

Ó Curraidhín, Mac Dara (film producer)
Ó Curraidhín, Mac Dara (film director)
Ó Fatharta, Mac Dara (narrator)
Winston, Brian (screenwriter)

Other credits

Editors, Chris Hainstock and Mikey Flaherty; Cinematography, Alan Wilson [and 4 others]; music, Steve McGrath.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Cinema Studies
Cultural Studies
Documentary Films
Film History
Film Studies
Media Studies
US and Canadian Broadcast Rights
Visual Anthropology


Robert Flaherty; Man of Aran; Nanook of the North; Richard Leacock; Brian Winston; communication; cinema; movies; motion pictures; Documentary; Documentaries; films; history; film; video; DVD; "A Boatload of Wild Irishmen"; Icarus Films; ,doc,bio,clad

Related Films

Coming to Light

An in-depth portrait of Edward S. Curtis, the preeminent photographer…

To Tell the Truth: Working for Change

A detailed history of documentary filmmaking in the US and the UK from…

To Tell the Truth: The Strategy of Truth

Examines documentary filmmaking during World War II and how it was used…