Peary MacMillan Arctic Museum
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Exhibits
Northern Cinema: Early Film of the Far North
March 13, 2001 - July 15, 2001
Explorers and expedition leaders such as Donald B. MacMillan and Robert A. Bartlett began using motion picture film early in the twentieth century. By the 1920s film footage from the North was common and very popular in newsreels and in public lectures given across the country. Such films gave American audiences their first good look at life in the Arctic. 

This exhibit is supported by the Friends of Bowdoin College.

Pictured above: Donald B. MacMillan, MacMillan party in camp on ice, Bay Fiord, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, May, 1924. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Films of the Arctic</b> </p>   Donald B. MacMillan was a popular speaker throughout his career, drawing large crowds on lecture tours across the country. He often illustrated his lectures with motion picture films taken on his expeditions. MacMillan’s popularity is evident in this photograph, in which he stands by a storefront featuring an elaborate display advertising his lecture in Buffalo, New York.  <br> <br>  Facsimile. Donald B. MacMillan Under the Northern Lights poster. Provincetown, ca. 1930. Gift of Miriam Look MacMillan.
<p><b>Films of the Arctic</b> </p>   Donald B. MacMillan was a popular speaker throughout his career, drawing large crowds on lecture tours across the country. He often illustrated his lectures with motion picture films taken on his expeditions. MacMillan’s popularity is evident in this photograph, in which he stands by a storefront featuring an elaborate display advertising his lecture in Buffalo, New York.  <br> <br>  Unknown photographer, Donald B. MacMillan by window display advertising his lecture. Buffalo, New York, ca. 1935. Gift of Miriam Look MacMillan.

<p><b>Filming Firsts</b> </p>   Filming in the Arctic was a challenge. Equipment was bulky and sensitive to the cold. Nevertheless, MacMillan took a motion picture camera with him on several early sledging trips. On this trip in 1924 he filmed camp life, sledge travel, and took the first footage of musk ox.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, MacMillan party in camp on ice, Bay Fiord, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, May, 1924. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Stalking Game with a Camera</b> </p>   Donald B. MacMillan developed innovative techniques to film Arctic wildlife. Here he uses a white screen to camouflage himself and his camera while he approaches a seal basking on the ice. Inuit hunters use similar screens as hunting blinds.   <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, MacMillan and motion picture camera behind screen. Northwest Greenland, ca. 1924. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Adapting to New Technology</b> </p>   To use a camera with a hunting blind, MacMillan first mounted the camera on a small sledge. The white cloth blind was mounted on the front of the sledge. The camera operator crawled along the ice behind the screen, hidden from his quarry.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Motion picture camera behind screen. Northwest Greenland, ca. 1924. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>MacMillan is Coming!</b> </p>   Donald B. MacMillan toured the country giving illustrated lectures and showing films of his Arctic work. His lectures were well attended, and the proceeds helped to fund his expeditions. As this handbill illustrates, companies such as Zenith helped sponsor the lectures, and indeed the expeditions themselves.  <br> <br>  Facsimile, MacMillan is Coming! handbill, ca. 1926. Gift of Miriam Look MacMillan.

<p><b>North Beyond the Arctic Circle</b> </p>   MacMillan’s lectures and films continued to be popular into the 1940s and 1950s. By that time he and his wife, Miriam, often used them to raise money for the Moravian Missions in Labrador. The MacMillans regularly donated money and school supplies to the Inuit school in Nain, Labrador.  <br> <br>  Facsimile, Commander Donald B. MacMillan Illustrated Lecture poster. Provincetown, August 28, 1947. Gift of Miriam Look MacMillan.
<p><b>Showing Films aboard the <em>Bowdoin</em></b> </p>   MacMillan showed films taken on his previous expeditions in the northern communities he visited. The screenings aboard the schooner <em>Bowdoin</em> usually marked the first time people in these remote communities saw themselves on film. He also showed feature films and documentaries about other parts of the world.   <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Showing movies to Eskimos, on the deck of the<em>Bowdoin</em>. Greenland, ca. 1930. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>New Skills</b> </p>   Using motion picture film required learning many new skills. While some expeditions hired professional cameramen and film editors, MacMillan undertook these tasks himself. Already a skilled photographer, he quickly learned how to shoot motion picture film, and how to edit it into entertaining and instructional films.   <br> <br>  Unknown photographer, MacMillan and unidentified man with film editing equipment, ca. 1935. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Making News</b> </p>   The departure and return of Arctic expeditions was a major event in the 1920s. Here reporters using both still and motion picture cameras record the departure of the MacMillan/Byrd expedition to Greenland in 1925. The footage was used in newsreels seen in cinemas across the country.  <br> <br>  Unknown photographer, Cameramen filming departure day activities. Wiscasset, 1925. Arctic Museum Collections.

<p><b>News Reels</b> </p>   Robert. A. Bartlett, who had been captain of Robert E. Peary’s ship the <em>Roosevelt</em> and later the <em>Effie M. Morrissey</em>, was also in the news. Pathé, a leading film company, sent cameramen along on many of Bartlett’s expeditions. This caption is from a newsreel documenting Bartlett’s 1938 expedition.  <br> <br>  Pathé Films, “Editors note.” New York, ca. 1939. Gift of David Nutt, Jr.
<p><b>Smiling for the Camera</b> </p>   Members of Bartlett’s 1938 Peary Memorial expedition, documented by Pathé, constructed a monument to Robert E. Peary at Cape York, Greenland. Here, from left to right, are Qissuk, Ootah, Bartlett  and Peary’s daughter Marie, with an unidentified child, at the dedication of the monument.  <br> <br>  Unknown cameraman, Dedication of the Peary Monument. Cape York, Greenland, 1938. Gift of David Nutt, Jr.

<p><b>Getting the Word Out</b> </p>   Lectures and films by Arctic explorers continued to be popular well into the 1940s. Robert A. Bartlett advertised his services as a speaker in Program magazine. Program was dedicated to  listings of speakers for all types of events. Enthusiasm for Bartlett’s lectures and films is evident in this 1941 advertisement.  <br> <br>  Facsimile, Program Magazine, Robert A. Bartlett Advertisement. New York, 1941. Courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, Bowdoin College.
<p><b>Speaking Engagements</b> </p>   Advertising paid off for Bartlett, who spoke at events ranging from semi-formal dinners at the National Arts Club to Winter Camp Night at the Camp Fire Club of America. At all of these events, color motion pictures taken on his expeditions were a major attraction.  <br> <br>  Facsimile, Campfire Club of America Menu, Hotel Pennsylvania, New York, Feb. 26, 1942. Courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, Bowdoin College.

<p><b>Speaking Engagements</b> </p>   Advertising paid off for Bartlett, who spoke at events ranging from semi-formal dinners at the National Arts Club to Winter Camp Night at the Camp Fire Club of America. At all of these events, color motion pictures taken on his expeditions were a major attraction.  <br> <br>  Facsimile, The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen Announcement, New York, Oct. 2, 1940. Courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, Bowdoin College.
<p><b>Speaking Engagements</b> </p>   Advertising paid off for Bartlett, who spoke at events ranging from semi-formal dinners at the National Arts Club to Winter Camp Night at the Camp Fire Club of America. At all of these events, color motion pictures taken on his expeditions were a major attraction.  <br> <br>  Facsimile, National Arts Club Announcement, New York, April 1, 1940. Courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, Bowdoin College.

<p><b>Continuing the Tradition</b> </p>   Reginald Wilcox, a nephew of Robert A. Bartlett, acted as cameraman on Bartlett’s expeditions for many years. After Bartlett’s death in 1946, Wilcox apparently planned to  go on the lecture circuit himself, showing the films he had made for Bartlett. Unfortunately, no copy of this film is known to exist.  <br> <br>  Facsimile, The Arctic in Color, ca. 1950. Gift of David Nutt.
<p><b>Walt Disney's <em>White Wilderness</em></b> </p>   Arctic adventures continued to fascinate viewers. In 1958 Walt Disney Productions  produced <em>White Wilderness</em>, a film documenting Arctic wildlife. This comic book, produced along with the film, highlights the difficulty of filming in the north.  <br> <br>  Facsimile, Walt Disney Productions, <em>White Wilderness: A True-life Adventure Feature</em>, New York, 1958. Museum Purchase.

<p><b>Powerful Messenger</b> </p>   Films are a powerful way to convey information or misinformation. <em>White Wilderness</em> emphasized the drama of life in the Arctic at the expense of truth. For this film photographers staged scenes of lemmings jumping off a cliff to drown in the sea. This widely seen footage gave mythical lemming behavior the appearance of fact although it has no basis in reality.  <br> <br>  Facsimile, Walt Disney Productions, <em>White Wilderness</em> excerpt, New York, 1958. Museum Purchase.
<p><b>Powerful Messenger</b> </p>   Films are a powerful way to convey information or misinformation. <em>White Wilderness</em> emphasized the drama of life in the Arctic at the expense of truth. For this film photographers staged scenes of lemmings jumping off a cliff to drown in the sea. This widely seen footage gave mythical lemming behavior the appearance of fact although it has no basis in reality.  <br> <br>  Facsimile, Walt Disney Productions, <em>White Wilderness</em> excerpt, New York, 1958. Museum Purchase.