In 1918 filmmaker Robert Flaherty presented footage he had filmed of life in the North to the New York Geographical Society in hopes of receiving funds to help with the expensive process of transferring the film back to negatives (Flaherty had accidently lit 30,000 feet of flammable negatives on fire, leaving him with only a single print in bad condition). Bruno Weyers, HBC’s agent in New York, was in the audience at the screening. He loved the film so much he suggested HBC use it for their upcoming 250th anniversary.
HBC liked the idea but instead of using Flaherty’s footage the Company decided to produce its own. HBC purchased the film company Educational Films and selected H.M. Wyckoff as the chief cinematographer on the project they called a “moving picture expedition”. The final film, entitled Romance of the Far Fur Country, premiered in 1920 during the 250th anniversary celebrations in Winnipeg.
As for Robert Flaherty, it wasn’t until 1922 after another trip to the North that he was finally able to finish Nanook of the North. It was a hit.In 1989 Nanook was one of the first 25 films selected by Library of Congress in the United State to be preserved in the National Film Registry and was released on DVD by The Criterion Collection in 1999. While Nanook of the North went onto critical acclaim and fame, Romance of the Far Fur Country fell into obscurity.
While no known copies of the final cut actually exist, the raw footage of Far Fur Country languished in relative obscurity at the British Film Institute for decades, before finally being transferred to the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives at the Archives of Manitoba in 2011. The move was championed by a small number of archivists and academics, who were aware of the film’s existence. A documentary about the lost film, On the Trail of the Far Fur Country,was released in 2014. Filmmaker Kevin Nikkel explores the original film project as well as his own recent journeys to the same communities where the original 1919 footage was filmed.
You can read more about both movies on Canada’s History: http://canadashistory.ca/Magazine/Online-Extension/Articles/Arctic-Visions. Or read about Kevin Nikkel’s experience bringing Far Fur Country back to life: http://povmagazine.com/articles/view/the-far-fur-country-diaries.
You can also watch the movie Nanook of the North online here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4kOIzMqso0