Screening Sighting - Jean Rouch: Early Films From West Africa, 1946 to 1951

by Tambay A. Obenson
October 22, 2011 5:31 AM
1 Comment
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An African cinema history lesson happening at MoMA, here in NYC, today, and again on Wednesday... the kind you probably won't learn in film school; I didn't see or hear the name Jean Rouch (the French expatriate filmmaker) until I picked up a copy of Manthia Diawara's African Cinema: Politics and Culture (which I strongly recommend), and that wasn't so long ago. I'm still learning... Here's the program description:

A program of rarely screened ethnographic films that Jean Rouch recorded in the West African countries of Mali and Niger, preserved by the Archives françaises du film du CNC, Bois d’Arcy. Rouch (1917–2004) radically transformed nonfiction cinema and anthropology. His more than 100 films shattered any quaint notions of objectivity or unmediated, singular truth, irrespective of whether his subjects were the cultures, ceremonies, rituals, attitudes, music, and magic-making of the Songhay tribe of the upper Niger or those of his fellow Parisians. Even today, Rouch’s films remain provocative and controversial in their interrogations of racism, colonialism, self-portraiture, the imaginary and the unreal, improvisation, the aura of the camera (what he called the “ciné-trance”), and the condition of observing and being observed.

The series includes the following films:

In the Land of the Black Magi - 1946–47. France. Directed by Jean Rouch. Rouch’s earliest surviving film, which depicts the Sorko of Niger on a hippopotamus hunt. 12 min.

Initiation into Possession Dance - 1948. France. Directed by Jean Rouch. Ritual possession dances among the Songhay of Firgoun, Niger. 22 min.

The Magicians of Wanzerbé - 1948. France. Directed by Jean Rouch. “Screened at the first ethnographic film conference of the Musée de l’Homme, [this film] depicts rituals of Songhay magicians who are descendants of Emperor Sonny Ali from the village of Wanzerbé, Niger, [including scenes of] the Wanzerbé market, children’s games, Mossi the magician, dance of the magicians, and sacrifice made to the village mountain spirit” (Rouch). 29 min.

Cemetery in the Cliff - 1950. France. Directed by Jean Rouch. Rouch records funeral rituals among the Dogon on the cliffs of Bandiagara, Mali, centering on a sacrifice to the spirit of the water, the return of the cadaver, and the interment of the body in the cemetery. 18 min.

The Men Who Make the Rain - 1951. France. Directed by Jean Rouch. "Rain rituals with possession dances among the Songhay and Zarma of Simiri, Zermaganda, Niger" (Rouch). The spirits speak through the voices of the dancers they have chosen, including the spirit of the wind, goddess of the cemeteries, the rainbow, master of the lightning, master of the thunderbolt, and master of the thunder and the rain. 28 min.

Today's screenings are already underway (sorry, I should have announced this earlier - they started at 1:30pm EST); but you'll get a second chance on Wednesday, October 26, at 4pm. I plan to attend then.

Ticket and other info HERE.

I couldn't find much of his work translated to, or subtitled in English, but here's a tiny sample:

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1 Comment

  • Josh Siegel | October 23, 2011 6:41 AMReply

    thanks for the post! We're also showing rare Jean Rouch films about architecture tomorrow at 4pm:

    http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/films/1210

    Architectes Ayorou
    1971. France. Directed by Jean Rouch. "For several years, the young people of these villages in western Niger have constructed a new habitat on the island, appealing to mutual aid: they employ ancient techniques of banco masonry and waterproof coatings, while they are inspired by the architecture of the modern cities" (Rouch). 29 min.

    Homage à Marcel Mauss: Germaine Dieterlen
    1977. France. Directed by Jean Rouch. "Dieterlen recalls the façade of the paintings on the Songo sheds that display the grand myths of the creation of the world among the Dogon. Then, in the refuge cave where the first inhabitants of the village of Bongo established themselves, she provokes a discussion on the architectural remains of ancient human establishments" (Rouch). 20 min.

    Ispahan: letter persane (La Mosqueé du Chah à Ispahan) (Ispahan: A Persian Letter [The Chah Mosque at Ispahan])
    1977. France. Directed by Jean Rouch. “A ciné-portrait of Iranian filmmaker Farrkh Gaffary, who discusses the dynamic architecture of the Chah mosque and the ambiguous rapport of Islam with filmic representation, with sex, and with death” (Rouch). 35 min.

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