The article considers the question of locality and universality regarding two locations and populations: the Inuit of the Canadian North, and the Aran Islanders living off the western coast of Ireland. These locations provide the setting for Robert J. Flaherty’s documentary films Nanook of the North (1922) and Man of Aran (1934). The two films attempt to reveal the essence of human nature through illustrations of human beings living under elemental conditions. Comparing the two films, this article explores tendencies toward locality and universality. It addresses the cinematic medium in relation to Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (1935) and the effects of the culture industry as described in Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s critical essay, ‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception’ (1944). The article considers whether Flaherty’s films prove wrong Benjamin’s argument that modern technology erases the aura surrounding works of art in pre-technological times. This article argues that the aura of Flaherty’s films may instead be considered an artistic effect that is specific to modern times, expressing the poetic vision of their maker.