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Minik
October 1897: The Arctic explorer Robert Peary returns to New York from his latest Greenland expedition. On board he is carrying the largest meteorite ever taken to the USA - and 5 Polar Eskimos.

Some time previously, Franz Boas, the curator of the American Museum of Natural History, had proposed bringing an Eskimo to New York to study him at leisure. For at the turn of the last century, the embryonic science of anthropology regarded the Eskimos as a rare species and the arrival of a clan of 5 Eskimos in New York ranked as a sensation.

But by October 1897 Boas has long since forgotten his “order“ of Eskimos. The 10-year-old Minik, his father Keeshuh and his relatives are provided with makeshift accommodation in the cellar of the museum. Within 10 days they have all fallen sick and are admitted to Bellevue Hospital, diagnosed with pneumonia and tuberculosis.

In the ensuring period, the Eskimos commute between their new dwelling in the Bronx, the hospital and the museum. The young “savage“ Minik becomes the darling of the New York press. In February 1898 his father Keeshuh dies of tuberculosis and his bones disappear into the anthropological archives of the museum. But for the benefit of the young Minik, the museum's anthropologists stage a mock burial of his father.

Within a few months the other Eskimos all succumb to their illnesses. Only Minik survives and is subsequently adopted by a member of the museum‘s staff. He remains in America for 12 years until he finally succeeds in making his way back to Greenland.

But in the ice-bound expanse of the Arctic, his American education stands him in little stead. He knows not how to hunt, drive a team of dogs or paddle a kayak. He has to re-learn his native tongue, become accustomed to the taste of raw seal meat and the young women of his people choose to ignore the inept Minik.

By now Robert Peary is being celebrated in America as the discoverer of the North Pole, yet Minik is consumed by loathing for Peary and all the scientists in New York. After seven years spent in the Arctic wilderness, he decides to return to America.

The multi-award winning documentary filmmaker Axel Engstfeld has retraced Minik‘s life journey. In a collage of archive footage, documents, reconstructions and forensic inquiry, he recounts the dramatic tale of the young Eskimo and succeeds in providing a fascinating insight into the nascent science of anthropology at the end of the 19th century.

The film was shot in a variety of locations, extending across North Greenland, New Hamsphire, Maine and New York. Gaining access to the Museum of Natural History in New York proved particularly difficult. Six months were to elapse before the researchers were allowed to study the museum’s files and archives. A further 6 months’ patience was required until highly restricted permission to film there was ultimately granted – proving just how sensitive this topic still is today.

It would appear as if these past events continue to deeply polarized the world of anthropology. Whereas some are anxious to distance themselves from the beginnings of their science, other anthropologists appear only too eager to debate its history. Among the latter group is the current curator of the American Museum of Natural History David Hurst Thomas. He discusses at length the dramatic fate of Minik and, in so doing, grants an insight into the attitudes prevalent among anthropologists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


director Axel Engstfeld
dop Hans Jakobi
editor Josef van Ooyen
music Hans Günter Wagener
Laufzeit: 81 min.
Sprache: English
Genre: Documentarys, English, Fremdsprachen
Land: Grönland
Produzent: Axel Engstfeld
IMDb: tt0499057
 

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