Eskimo (1934): Oscar Winner

A hybrid of a movie, Eskimo, directed by W. S. Van Dyke, is part medlodrama and part documentary, centering on the struggles of an Eskimo family to survive the elements.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Film Editing: Conrad Nervig

Oscar Awards: 1


Oscar Context:

This was the first year in which the Academy honored editing achievements.


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Directed by
W. S. Van Dyke
Produced by
Hunt Stromberg
W. S. Van Dyke
Irving Thalberg
Screenplay by
John Lee Mahin
Based on
Der Eskimo (1927 book) and Die Flucht ins weisse Land (1929 book)
by Peter Freuchen
Ray Mala
Music by
William Axt
Clyde De Vinna
Edited by
Conrad A. Nervig
Distributed by
Release date
November 14, 1933 (New York City)
1934 (U.S.)
Running time
117 or 120 minutes

Eskimo (also known as Mala the Magnificent and Eskimo Wife-Traders) is a 1933 American Pre-Code drama film directed by W. S. Van Dyke and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). It is based on the books Der Eskimo and Die Flucht ins weisse Land by Danish explorer and author Peter Freuchen. The film stars Ray Mala as Mala, Lulu Wong Wing as Mala’s first wife Aba, Lotus Long as Mala’s second wife Iva, Peter Freuchen as the Ship Captain, W. S. Van Dyke as Inspector White, and Joseph Sauers as Sergeant Hunt.

Eskimo was one of the first features to be shot in a Native American language (Inupiat)

It documented the hunting procedures, cultural practices, norms and lifestyles of Native Alaskans.

The production for the film was based at Teller, Alaska, where housing, storage facilities, a film lab, and other structures were built to house the cast, crew, and equipment.

Eskimo was nicknamed “Camp Hollywood” with a crew of 42 cameramen and technicians, six airplane pilots, and Emil Ottinger, a chef from the Roosevelt Hotel.

Locations used for filming include Cape Lisburne in March 1933, Point Hope and Cape Serdtse-Kamen in April to July, and Herald Island in the Chukchi Sea in July.

The film crew encountered difficulties recording native speech due to the “kh” sound of the native language. The pre-production, principal photography, and post-production took 17 months.

Some scholars have criticized the narrow depiction of the Eskimo as childlike and simple, sort of “noble savages” rather than as realistic human beings.