Directors in Focus: Jean Rouch
Moi, Un Noir
dir. Jean Rouch, France, 1958, digital, French with English subtitles, 70 min.
Introduction by Jamie Berthe.
Winner of the prestigious Prix Louis Delluc in 1958, Moi, un noir marked Jean Rouch’s break with traditional ethnography and his embrace of the collaborative and improvisatory strategies he called “shared ethnography” and “ethnofiction.”
The film depicts an ordinary week in the
lives of men and women from Niger who have migrated to Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire
for work. After a short introduction by Rouch, “Edward G. Robinson”—Omarou
Ganda, who like the film’s other subject-collaborators plays himself under the
name of a Western movie star—takes over the film’s narration, recreating
dialogue and providing freewheeling commentary on his experiences.
Moi, un noir captures both the sorrows and the
occasional joys of these migrants’ experience in all their psychological
dir. Jean Rouch, France, 1953, digital, French with English subtitles, 19 min.
On the coast of Ghana, in the shadows of
the Portuguese slave forts, lies the Gulf of Guinea. This sea is home to the
“surf boys”, teams of expert fisherman who paddle into the ocean in large
canoes, sometimes staying at sea for one or even two nights. In Mammy Water,
Jean Rouch depicts the surf boys of the coastal village of Shama, at the foot
of the Pra River. Their success is governed by water spirits (‘Mammy Water’).
When the catch is bad, villagers must honor the spirits with a ceremony if they
wish to change their fortunes.
The film captures one such ceremony: The
Festival of the King of Shama. The whole village takes part in a procession
that concludes with a series of offerings to the sea. Afterwards, surf boys
pile into their canoes and head back into the ocean. Will their luck be better?
Jamie Berthe is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. Her research interests include ethnographic and documentary film, African cinema, postcolonial studies, French colonial history and cultural politics, and visual culture. Jamie's dissertation – “An Art of Ambivalence: On Jean Rouch, African Cinema, and the Complexities of the (Post)Colonial Encounter” – explores the evolution and legacy of Jean Rouch's film work in relationship to French colonial history and African film.