Centenary of Jean Rouch

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Gala event

Convened by
Paul Henley

After a brief introduction to the work of Jean Rouch, there will be a screening of one of his major works, "Moi, un Noir". This will be followed by a Round Table discussion and Q&A, involving a number of leading specialists on Rouch’s work.

Jean Rouch (1917-2004) created the metier of ethnographic filmmaker. Whereas a few earlier anthropologists had made films as a sideline to their work, and certain documentarists had made films of ethnographic interest, Rouch was the first to place filmmaking at the centre of his practice as a professional anthropologist. In the course of a filmmaking career that stretched from 1946 to 2002, he completed over 100 films, around half of which could be classed as ‘ethnographic’, though in the most diverse formats. As well as conventional documentaries and unexpurgated films of record, Rouch also made fictions anchored in ethnographic research, giving rise to the genre now known as ‘ethnofiction’.

Rouch shot the great majority of his ethnographic films in West Africa, mostly in Niger, Ghana and Mali. Although he was interested in traditional religious practices, particularly in possession ceremonies, he was also interested in how these practices were adapting to the modern world. In the 1950s, he made a number of celebrated films on migrants moving from the edge of the Sahara Desert to the dynamic cities of the coast. Here the migrants continued with their traditional religious practices, while at the same time being in daily contact both with modern technology and with globalised Afroamerican culture in the form of jazz and boxing. "Moi, un Noir" is one of his most acclaimed of his films from this period, winning the Prix Louis-Delluc, the French ‘Oscar’ in 1959.

Rouch was at the peak of his fame in France in the early 1960s, when he regularly featured in the pages of Cahiers du cinéma and was a fellow traveller of the Nouvelle Vague. It was only in the late 1970s that his work became widely known among English-language audiences when his commitment to collaboration with the subjects of his films, his scepticism about the objectivity of the cinematic image and his interest in fiction struck a chord with the post-modernist approaches that were then emerging in anthropology.

This event is made possible by sponsorship of the University of Westminster.

Contributors:

In the 2017 RAI Film Fest
  • Jean-Paul Colleyn (Filmmaker, anthropologist, director of the Institut des mondes africaines, Paris)
  • Paul Stoller (Anthropologist and author of The Cinematic Griot: the Ethnography of Jean Rouch (1992), among many other books on West Africa.)
  • Joram ten Brink (Filmmaker, Professor at the University of Westminster, editor of Building Bridges: the Cinema of Jean Rouch (2008))