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Filmmaker Provocateur: Jean Rouch

March 10, 2013 - April 16, 2013


“For Rouch the cinema is no window on the world, it is a door through which he plunges.”—James Blue, Film Comment

Much of the extraordinary life work of the French filmmaker and anthropologist Jean Rouch (1917–2004) focused on Africa, where for over sixty years he made ethnographic films in a radical style that continued to evolve. A pioneer of cinema verité and an influence on the French New Wave, Rouch experimented with improvisation, introducing fiction to documentary, and collaborating with his subjects. Georges Sadoul noted that Rouch was “one of the first to give Black Africans a voice on international screens,” and a number of his African collaborators went on to create their own cinema.

Central to Rouch’s approach was his concept of provocation; he “believed that the camera's intervention stimulated people to greater spontaneity, expression and truth without asking them . . . to act as though the camera was not there" (The Guardian, London). He brought a deep sense of social justice to depicting contemporary life, whether Parisians in his seminal Chronicle of a Summer or the rituals and dreams of West Africans in his ethno-fictions Moi, un noir and Jaguar.

Kathy Geritz, Film Curator

Sunday, March 10, 2013
3:00 p.m. Moi, un noir
Jean Rouch (France/Ivory Coast, 1958). In this playful yet enlightening portrait of the immigrant experience, Rouch enlists a modern-day griot who narrates his and his friends’ everyday experiences in the Ivory Coast during the last period of French colonialism. With experimental short narrative Gare du Nord. (88 mins)

Sunday, March 24, 2013
3:00 p.m. The Lion Hunters
Jean Rouch (France/Niger, 1965). A chronicle of the technological aspects of lion hunting, filmed in northern Niger and Mali. “A fascinating account” (Jonathan Rosenbaum). With Ghana short Mammy Water. (95 mins)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013
7:00 p.m. Jaguar
Jean Rouch (France/Niger/Ghana, 1955–67). A "bandit" tax collector, a cattle herder, and a fisherman migrate south from Niger to find their fortunes in Ghana in what Rouch described as “a postcard in the service of the imaginary." With Rouch’s best-known film, Les maîtres fous. (116 mins)

Sunday, April 7, 2013
3:00 p.m. Little by Little
Jean Rouch (France/Niger, 1970). This follow-up to Jaguar finds our African protagonists in Paris, where they collect information on the curious habits of Parisian residents, in an often comical performance of reverse ethnography. “A truly mesmerizing, frequently hilarious, and provocative masterpiece” (Eric Kohn). With short Tourou and Bitti: The Drums of the Past. (100 mins)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013
7:00 p.m. The Human Pyramid
Jean Rouch (France/Ivory Coast, 1959–61). Rouch worked with students in Abidjan, Ivory Coast to enact a story about the arrival of a new white girl, and her effect on the interactions of black and white students. Followed by Manthia Diawara’s invaluable introduction to Rouch, Rouch in Reverse. (140 mins)

Sunday, April 14, 2013
3:00 p.m. Madame L’eau
Jean Rouch (Netherlands/France/Niger, 1993). Archival Print! This act of collaborative mythmaking follows three African friends (the heroes of both Jaguar and Little by Little) on a rollercoaster ride from drought-stricken Niger to inundated Holland and back again. With Mozambique short Makwayela. (128 mins)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013
7:00 p.m. Chronicle of a Summer
Jean Rouch, Edgar Morin (France, 1960–61). This landmark documentary influenced the French New Wave, and much of documentary filmmaking. Rouch asks passing Parisians, “Are you happy?” with fascinating results. With a short portrait of Rouch, Une brève histoire de cinema. (107 mins)

This series is indebted to Here and Elsewhere: The Films of Jean Rouch presented at the French Institute Alliance Française and Anthology Film Archives in New York, curated by Sam Di Iorio and Jamie Berthe. Special thanks to Denis Bisson, Ivan Bertoux, Cultural Services, Consulate General of France, San Francisco; Delphine Selles-Alvarez, Cultural Services of the French Embassy, New York; Centre National du Cinéma et de l'image animée; Centre national de la Recherche Scientifique; Comité du film ethnographique; Marie Losier, French Institute Alliance Française; Jed Rapfogel, Anthology Film Archives; Emilie de Brigard, FilmResearch; Nicolas Petitjean, Sodaperaga; Marleen Labijt, EYE Film Institute Netherlands; Shannon Kelly, UCLA Film & Television Archive; Livia Bloom, Icarus Films.