Directors in Focus: Jean Rouch
The Lion Hunters
dir. Jean Rouch, France, 1967, digital, color, French w/ English subtitles, 77 min.
Shot on the border between Niger and Mali
over a period of seven years, The Lion Hunters
(La Chasse au lion à l’arc) is Jean Rouch’s
documentation of the lion hunt performed by the gow hunters of the Songhay
Opening on the Niger River, the film
travels north to “the bush that is farther than far:” the desert region
populated by the Fulani cattle herders, who have requested the help of the gow
in eliminating a lion, nicknamed “The American” for his cruel cunning, who has
been killing their cows.
As the Songhay society’s designated
hunters, the gow have developed a series of elaborate rituals to precede the
hunt. We see them fashioning their bow and arrows from tree branches, and
preparing the Boto poison with which they will coat the arrows, a process
accompanied by an astonishing series of dances and incantations.
The gow lay traps, and test the poison on a
hyena and a civet cat, but even these measures are not enough to prepare us for
their confrontation with the ferocious “American.”
Les maîtres fous
dir. Jean Rouch, France, 1955, digital, French with English subtitles, 36 min.
The Mad Masters (Les maîtres fous), the most controversial and also the most
widely celebrated work by ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch, depicts a
possession ritual of the Hauka religious sect using the delirious techniques of
The film opens on the bustling streets of Accra, the capital of the Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana), a major colonial port city that serves as a stage for the collision of the traditional and the modern. Among the diverse groups who populate the city are members of the Hauka religious movement, which began in Niger among the Songhay people, and migrated with them to The Gold Coast.