Jean Rouch

Active - 1947 - 2004  |   Born - May 31, 1917   |   Died - Feb 18, 2004   |   Genres - Drama, Culture & Society, Comedy

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

French ethnographer-turned-filmmaker Jean Rouch and his collaborator, Edgar Morin, were the fathers of modern cinéma vérité. Their work has had great influence on French New Wave filmmakers. Rouch had degrees in literature and engineering before he became fascinated by African cultures in the early '40s. He saw the camera as a means to accurately and objectively record the lives of West African tribesmen and so went there in the mid-'40s toting a 16mm camera. Rouch became intrigued with the potential power of filmed ethnographies. The results were provocative documentaries such as Initiation à la Danse Possédés (Initiation to Possession Dancing) (1949). In 1958, Rouch released his innovative chronicle of an Abidjan stevedore, Moi, Un Noir. He filmed it without sound and later added a narration recorded by the stevedore himself, who spontaneously reflected on his actions while viewing the film. The results offered fascinating and penetrating insights into the life of the film's subject. Rouch next teamed up with Edgar Morin and began using the same techniques on European subjects. The film Chronique d'un Été (Chronicle of a Summer) (1961) is considered seminal in the development of the cinéma vérité movement. Over his long career, Rouch made over 90 such films. Between 1987 and 1991, he served as the president of the Cinémathèque Française. At 86-years-old in March of 2004, Rouch was killed in a car crash.

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