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Selected Shorts by Jean Rouch

Les maîtres fous (1955)
January 30, 2013 - 7:30 pm

"Les Maîtres FousThe Mad Masters—one of the truly great films." - Werner Herzog

"[The Mad Masters] has been recognized as an anthropological classic and is now widely considered to be one of the most profound explorations of an African view of the colonial world." Senses of Cinema

This compendium of early, shorter works by Rouch traces the development of his practice as a filmmaker concerned with producing sound ethnography, as well as creating revelatory filmic documents. Developing more refined distinctions from this juncture of disciplines, he recorded and interpreted sacred rites and celebrations with methods both borrowed and improvised.

Au pays des mages noirs (In the Land of the Black Magi) (1947)

Directed by J. Rouch, Jean Sauvy, Pierre Ponty

Captured during an early expedition along the Niger river, the film depicts a hippopotamus hunt by Sorko fishermen on the island of Ayorou, Rouch’s first film on this subject.

35mm, b/w, 13 min.

Initiation a la danse des possédés (Initiation into Possession Dance) (1949)

A Songhay woman in the Niger village of Firgoun learns the dances of a spirit medium, to manage the spirit possessions that have deprived her of the power of speech.

16mm, color, 22 min.

La Circoncision (The Circumcision) (1949)

A depiction of the day-long circumcision rites of forty Songhay boys in Mali, from morning preparations through circumcision to ritual music at the day’s end.

16mm, color, 14 min.

Les maîtres fous (The Mad Masters) (1955)

Depicting the annual Hauka religious ceremonies of the Upper Niger region and produced at the request of priests in authority, Rouch’s compact but staggeringly influential film has been alternately denounced for perpetuating “savage” imagery, and lauded for its ethnographic rigor and implied critique of colonialism.

Digital video from 16mm, color, 28 min.

Baby Ghana (1957)

A record of festivities following Ghanaian independence in 1957, also emblematizing Rouch’s role in documenting Africa’s transition to its post-colonial period.

35mm, color, 27 min.