Skip to main content

High Arctic

Identifier: Film Collection no. 191

Scope and Contents

This film begins in Ottawa at the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. While there, a Mountie officer convinces Lewis Cotlow, producer and director of this film, to make a motion picture about the Eskimos of the high Arctic. The film shows Cotlow and his film crew setting out on board an official Mountie airplane named the Otter. The next sequence is a series of aerial views depicting the topography of the far north. Included is a beautiful shot of a pod of white beluga whales swimming near Jones Sound, between Baffin and Ellesmere Islands. Upon landing on Ellesmere Island, the expedition uses dog sleds to reach the Mountie outpost, where they are to meet two Mountie district officers. An Eskimo is filmed on his visit to the district headquarters as he requests medical assistance for his pregnant wife. One of the district officers, Jenkins, then assembles medicine and prepares for the trip. Again using sled dogs, Cotlow and his crew join Jenkins on his relief mission. The travelers stop for a night's rest, even though the sky is still very bright. (This was filmed during the season in which there is sunlight 24 hours a day.) At breakfast, they eat the morning meal, which consists of raw seal and whale liver, before setting out again on their mission. The next sequence shows Jenkins reaching the Eskimos' igloo and treating the woman and a few sick children. Cotlow presents toys to the children; the one preferred by the children is a polar bear figure with a head on a spring. The family must relocate to search for game, and an old woman, who is unable to make the trip, is shown along with the young couple who will remain behind to care for her. The family and all of its possessions are packed on dog sleds for the move. The importance of the dogs, and their various personalities, is discussed. Also included in this section is a musical soundtrack of men singing. The building of an igloo is the subject of the next bit of footage. Special attention is given to the installation of a clear block of ice serving as a window or skylight. Children cavort with a litter of huskie puppies and men travel to a government cooperative to trade goods. They have brought with them fox pelts and a large polar bear skin to trade for a rifle, a primus stone, baby bottles, and other necessary supplies. A young boy named Imooshie receives instruction from an elder in the ways of hunting, and his father, Markosie, teaches the boy how to use a harpoon and a rifle. Together father and son embark on a seal hunt. In this segment the photographer concentrates on the handling of the dogs, as well as the hunt itself. Footage is included of Markosie stalking a seal using a teliwak, a large mirror-like screen that reflects the surrounding environment and conceals the hunter who stands or walks behind it. Markosie shoots a cow seal and young Imooshie captures its calf. Upon the hunters' return, the entire family eats the meat. A "survival-of-the-fittest" scene is recorded when the dogs are fed and a fight for the food ensues. Later, one of the dogs' teeth are filed in order to prevent serious injury to other dogs during dog-fights. The next sequence depicts a young man, Okoku, being accepted into a family for a trial marriage to a young woman named Ouisa. Following Okoku's acceptance, the men set out on a walrus hunt. This section of the film also features another fine view of a pod of white whales which the men pass on their trek. This trip proves to be a successful one, as the hunters manage to shoot a 3,000-pound bull walrus with a harpoon attached to a float made from the stomach of a seal. The hunters also pursue a polar bear and finally kill it with harpoons. The last section of this film is devoted to crafts. Men carve sandstone figurines. Women make seal-skin boots for the dogs' paws, to give the dogs better traction during the summer season when the ice melts and becomes slippery. More discussion of Okoku and Ouisa's trial marriage is featured. The film shows Ouisa repairing her husband's parka using sinews from a caribou leg for thread and a needle made of ivory. Her nightly ritual of warming Okoku's cold feet against her bare stomach, and her chewing the soles of his boots to soften them, are also shown. Their marriage succeeds and the couple moves south to Baffin Island to join others in starting a new community.


  • 1962-1963

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Not available through interlibrary loan. Contact AMNH Library Special Collections for terms of access.


1 Film Reel (65 minutes) : sound, color ; 16 mm.

1 Videocassette (U-Matic (65 minutes)) : sound, color ; 3/4 in.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

3/4 in., U-Matic, viewing copy


Original format: 16 mm. print.



Lewis Cotlow, producer and director.

High Arctic, 1962-1963
Iris Lee
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Museum Archives at the Gottesman Research Library Repository

American Museum of Natural History
200 Central Park West
New York NY 10024 USA
(212) 769-5420