Bering: Balance and Resistance is the first documentary feature directed by the Mexican photographer and video artist Lourdes Grobet. Its theme is the life of the Inuit at the american side of the Bering strait.
Filled with powerful images that reflect the sensitivity of its director, Bering is specially competent on bringing its public closer to its subjects. There is beauty in the ice covered landscapes of the Arctic, but there are also challenges.
Watching Bering brings another documentary about the Inuit of the Arctic to mind: Nanook of the north. Filmed in 1922 by Robert J. Flaherty, it centers in the life of Nanook, an Inuit man from the Canadian Arctic and his family. Nanook was one of the first documentaries ever made, and its genre is still questioned to this day due to the fact that a couple of its scenes were staged. Still, it was an important documentation on how the Inuit lived 90 years ago, with no electricity, wearing clothes made of animal fur and surviving with subsistence hunting. The Inuit of Bering at the present day have electricity and heaters, wear clothes made at factories and buy coca-cola at their local grocery store. They still hunt, but now they have guns and motor boats. Their greatest struggles are not how to get food or stay warm, but how to preserve their culture while still finding their place in the modern world.
Two scenes on both Bering and Nanook can be paralleled. In the first, two men come back from a hunting trip to the ocean where they caught a walrus. Those who are near come to help bring the animal to the shore, a task that requires strength and coordination. Once they achieve their goal, the director makes a cut, and in the next scene we see the snow tinted red by the walrus’ blood. In Nanook, we see the capture of an immense seal, one that requires about as many men to retrieve as the walrus of Bering. However, in Nanook the director does not spare its public of the most crude and real moments of the Inuit life and shows the skinning of the animal, an image that, even in black-and-white and lower definition, is still gut turning.
While Flaherty patronizes his subjects, Grobet values them and give them their space to be true to who they are. The contact of the white men with the Inuit began about about a century ago, and it’s interesting to see it that generated, especially at Bering, a place that was once dominated by the Russians and later bought by the Americans with no consultation whatsoever of the desire of its native population. In the movie, a lot of them express the sense of being disregarded and carried by the flow.
Bering it’s a beautiful and touching documentary in itself, but knowing how the Inuit have been portrayed by other directors in the past gives the public a sense of perspective that can only foster their understanding of the matter.