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Jean Rouch, The Adventurous Filmmaker

Distributed by Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Produced by Arte France, Roche Noir Productions
Directed by Laurent Vedrine
DVD, color and b&w, 55 min.
College - General Adult
Africans, Films, Documentaries

Reviewed by Brian Falato, University of South Florida Tampa Campus Library

Date Entered: 3/8/2018

Jean Rouch (1917-2004) was a French filmmaker originally trained as an engineer. During World War II, he went to colonial French West Africa to build roads. He became more and more interested in the culture of the indigenous people he met there, and after returning to Paris, decided to abandon engineering and study ethnography and filmmaking.

Returning to Africa, he started making ethnographic films about the people in the land that would be called Niger after independence. Influenced by both the surrealists and Robert Flaherty’s film Nanook of the North, Rouch made films that combined documentary footage with staged re-creations and fictional elements, and used stylized cinematography and editing. These techniques in turn influenced nascent French New Wave directors such as Jean-Luc Godard.

Jean Rouch, the Adventurous Filmmaker is a French film that is a tribute to the man. It combines archival footage of Rouch with new interviews of his Nigerien filmmaking collaborators and other Nigeriens who were inspired by him. It’s stated that Rouch helped start a Nigerien film industry, and his efforts to work with the local people earned their trust and respect. A Nigerien speaker in the film says Rouch was more Nigerien than French, and he is buried in Niger. (He died after a car accident in the country).

This film doesn’t explore the ethical questions of staging footage in a “documentary,” and there are no dissenting voices about Rouch’s presentations of African culture. There are clips from several of the films Rouch made over a 55-year career, but they can give only a taste of his approach. The film is recommended as introduction to the man, and would best serve libraries with large collections in film or Africana studies.