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: