In 1989, this film was one of the first 25 films to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
The film was shot near Inukjuak, on Hudson Bay in northern Quebec, Canada. Having worked as a prospector and explorer in Arctic Canada among the Inuit, Flaherty was familiar with his subjects and set out to document their lifestyle. Flaherty had shot film in the region prior to this period, but that footage was destroyed in a fire started when Flaherty dropped a cigarette onto the original camera negative (which was highly flammable nitrate stock). Flaherty therefore made<em>Nanook of the North</em> in its place. Funded by French fur company Revillon Frères, the film was shot from August 1920 to August 1921.
As the first nonfiction work of its scale, <em>Nanook of the North</em> was ground-breaking cinema. It captured an exotic culture (that is, Indigenous and considered exotic to non-Inuit peoples) in a remote location, rather than a facsimile of reality using actors and props on a studio set. Traditional Inuit methods of hunting, fishing, igloo-building, and other customs were shown with accuracy, and the compelling story of a man and his family struggling against nature met with great success in North America and abroad.