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Why did Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran resonate so strongly with the cultural milieu of 1930s Ireland? I argue that Flaherty’s documentary, despite its mimetic intentions, has, in fact, the semiotic form of a foundation myth. A consequence of this, I suggest, was that Flaherty’s film would have been instrumental in activating nationalist narratives of self-determination and colonial oppression that were then current in the nascent Irish State. Additionally, a subsidiary (and related) goal of my discussion is to show, by way of Flaherty’s film, that the documentary form is no less structured by normative cultural codes than its fictional counterparts.


Journal article


Studies in Documentary Film



Publication Date



61 - 79

Total pages



Documentary, Flaherty, Ireland, Semiotics, Myth, Aran, Nationalism, Film