"Jean Rouch was an inspiration for the French New Wave, and a revolutionary force in ethnography and the study of Africa. Beginning in 1955 with his most controversial film The Mad Masters, through 1969's darkly comic Little by Little, these films represent the most sustained flourishing of Rouch's practice of "shared anthropology," a process of collaboration with his subjects. Astonishing on their own terms, now restored and released for the first time, Eight films by Jean Rouch is essential for anyone interested in better understanding the development of ethnography and the cross-currents of colonialism and post-colonial social change in Africa, as well as documentary film practice, film history, and world cinema as a whole. Included in this box set are eight newly restored films on four discs, a 24-page booklet with two essays about Rouch and his methodology, and a new documentary about Rouch, his films, and his influence on African cinema, Jean Rouch, "the Adventurous filmmaker" -- Icarus Films website.
Mammy water: A portrait of a fishing village, Shama, Ghana, on the Gulf of Guinea, as filmed in 1953 and 1954. The success of the fishermen is governed by water spirits ("Mammy water") which are honored with ceremonies and offerings to the sea.
The mad masters: Filmed it Accra, Ghana, in 1954, the film depicts the annual ceremony of the Hauku cult, a social and religious movement which was widespread in French colonial Africa from the 1920's to the 1950's. Participants in the ceremony mimic the elaborate military ceremonies of their colonial occupiers, but in more of a trance than true recreation.
Moi, un noir: One of Rouch's ethnofictions, the film is set in Treichville, an inner suburb of Abidjan, where young, unskilled men gather in search of work. In an opening sequence narrated by Rouch himself, he talks about the flood of unemployed youth as one of the sicknesses of the new African towns. He explains that he spent six months following a group of young immigrant men from Niger, 2,000 km away from their home, making this film in collaboration with them: I proposed that we make a film together. They would play their own role with no restrictions on what they wanted to do or say. Narrated largely by one young man nicknamed Edward G. Robinson (played by Oumarou Ganda) as he watches the edited footage, the film expresses his constant "sadness" as he searches vainly for a decent job, a decent lifestyle and a woman he can love.
The human pyramid: Filmed in 1958 and 1959 with a mixed group of final year students in a lycée in Abidjan (the capital of the Ivory Coast), this loosely improvised narrative on the subject of race relations is framed by Rouch's voice on the soundtrack justifying the film because of the real friendships formed among the participants, both black and white, and the fact that for them racism no longer made any sense.
The lion hunters: Shot over a period of seven years (1958-1965), the film is a documentation of lion hunting, using bows and arrows, among the Fula and Songhay people of Niger, and the social structure that underlies it.
Jaguar: One of Jean Rouch's classic ethnofictions, the film follows three young Songhay men from Niger-- Lam Ibrahim, Illo Goudel'ize, and the legendary performer Damouré Zika-- on a journey to the Gold Coast (modern day Ghana). Drawing from his own fieldwork on intra-African migration, the results of which he published in the 1956 book Migrations au Ghana, Rouch collaborated with his three subjects on an improvisational narrative. The four filmed the trip in mid-1950s, and reunited a few years later to record the sound, the participants remembering dialogue and making up commentary. The result is a playful film that finds three African men performing an ethnography of their own culture.
Little by little: A classic ethnofiction by Jean Rouch. An innovative semi-improvised feature film about young men from Niger exploring life in Paris and learning to appreciate traditional values back home. Like Jaguar, and starring the three main actors from that film, this film is an exercise in what Rouch called ethno-fiction, an idiosyncratic blend of fiction and observational documentary.
The punishment: Out of school for the day on suspension, an eighteen-year-old Parisian women roams Paris.
Jean Rouch, the adventerous filmmaker: a portrait of the motion picture director Jean Rouch.