An African cinema history lesson is coming your way, courtesy of Icarus Films… the kind you probably won’t get 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…
A selection of rarely screened ethnographic films that Jean Rouch recorded in Mali and Niger primarily, have been preserved by the Archives françaises du film du CNC, Bois d’Arcy.
Rouch (1917–2004) radically transformed nonfiction cinema, with more than 100 films. Even today, Rouch’s films are still quite provocative and controversial in their interrogations of racism and colonialism to start.
Icarus Films announces via press release that it has acquired 6 Jean Rouch classics for North American distribution, including his landmark 1957 work Moi, Un Noir (Me, A Black) – winner of the 1958 Prix Louis Delluc, and regarded by Jean-Luc Godard as “the best French film since the liberation.”
In all, the 6 titles acquired include 2 shorts and 4 feature films. Icarus will release the films both theatrically and non-theatrically this fall.
The films will also be part of a two-part, 40-film Jean Rouch retrospective held at French Institute Alliance Française and Anthology Film Archives, in NYC, between November 7-27, which will be accompanied by a one-day symposium at New York University.
The retrospective will be followed by a North American tour, stopping at venues including The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Pacific Cinematheque in Vancouver.
When Icarus reveals more about its specific plans for each film’s release, we’ll share here.
For now, below you’ll find the complete list of 6 films Icarus has acquired rights to and will release:
LES MAÎTRES FOUS 1955/ color/ 26 minutes Rouch’s classic and controversial depiction of a spectacular trance ritual of Accra’s Hauka religious sect, made up mostly of migrant workers from rural Niger, that also constitutes a theatrical protest against West Africa’s colonial masters.
MAMMY WATER 1956/ color/ 19 minutes Along the coast of Ghana, near the old Portuguese slave forts, children play in the ocean and fisherman perform ceremonies to placate the sea gods whose favor determines their catch.
MOI, UN NOIR 1957/ color/ 72 minutes In Rouch’s landmark ethnofiction, three Nigerien migrant workers in Treichville, outside Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, describe their lives in the city, the difficulties of urbanization, and their dreams, playfully re-enacting their daily routines for the camera, and taking on the names of American movie stars.
THE LION HUNTERS (LE CHASSE AU LION À L’ARC) 1965/ color/ 80 minutes Recorded over the course of seven years on the border between Niger and Mali, THE LION HUNTERS documents the traditional lion hunt of the Songhay people, taking it as a key to understanding the region’s social organization.
JAGUAR 1967/ color/ 89 minutes Three young men from Niger travel to Accra to work. Rouch once again collaborates with his subjects, who narrate the film together, recreating dialogue, explaining their motivations, and infusing the documentary footage with fantasy.
LITTLE BY LITTLE (PETIT À PETIT) 1969/ color/ 92 minutes In LITTLE BY LITTLE, viewers rejoin the three men from JAGUAR, now running an import-export company in Niamey. Business brings them to Paris, where they perform a reverse anthropology of Rouch’s own culture.