Friday, December 19, 2008

International Jean Rouch Symposium

International Jean Rouch Symposium

[Jean Rouch] kept repeating that he was neither an ethnologist nor a film director, but combined both functions. Extraordinarily diverse, surprisingly unusual, the decent man par excellence, crossing through the looking glass, a pale fox straight out of Dogon mythology, the hunted-hunter of an impossible doppelganger that he finally came to face on that last night in Niger, on February 18, 2004, elusive and yet present, yesterday or tomorrow, forever...

Between surrealism and knowledge of Africa, Jean Rouch found the magic lantern of cinema. It reveals the self in the other, and the other in ourselves, between which the anthropologist attempted to initiate dialogue. He wrote that "cinema, the art of the double, is already a transition from the real world to the imaginary world, while ethnography, the science of others' systems of thought, is a permanent crossing from one conceptual universe into another, a form of gymnastics where going out of one's depth is the least of the risks involved."


- Direct cinema and construction of the real: Chronique d'un été
Across all his manners of "acting" as both an ethnologist and director Jean Rouch brings into play a true philosophy of action. This unrepentant trickster, this smiling magician, this intriguing charmer, this dream hunter, this smuggler of genres, never stopped inventing Africa -- has he not invented anthropology as well, in making his films?
One response to this question appears clearly through his collaboration with Edgar Morin for the film Chronique d'un été. Not only is the film a token of the advent of direct cinema in France, it is also a real action film showing real situations and relations b/t characters that are more or less artificially brought together. Rouch and Morin's cleverness lies in allowing the spectator to follow the meanderings of the actors' and directors' involvement with each other, thus offereing a dynamic anthropological study about the formation of a group, the emergence of a society. The director is no longer a demiurge or a learned portrayer of shadows, but a mediator who is implicated in the effects of his work. The meaning of the film belongs to the spectator in the end, and thus renews itself from viewing to viewing.

- A new anthropology, an anthropology of the living
"Rouchian" anthropology teaches us a double lesson: proximity and continuity allow us not only to see, but also to explore the meaning of difference, to exchange points of view, and as such to possibly change and most of all decenter the analysis. Shared anthropology puts into perspective the anthroplogist whose method is included in the questioning. The interviewer and his subject are both incorporated in a situation that eludes them as they define it.
From his very first films, Rouch presented his images to the people that they were showing. ...
Anthropological investigation becomes a concrete situation: it is the meeting of people who openly question their belonging, their desires, their pleasures and their obligations. The description that is the foundation of anthropology is thus narration, avoiding the risks of hasty explanations that Marcel Mauss proscribed by enjoining anthropologists to first observe without drawing any conclusions. The Rouchian lesson follows in the same direction as that of Dziga Vertov, the "armed gaze", that of the director and to an even greater extent, that of the ethnologist: it is important to overcome the prior organization of seeing which leads only to cursory examination, if not reducing it to a mere resemblance of itself.
Rouch suggests increasing the number of observation paths and locations. He directs his anthropological questioning toward putting the approach itself into perspective. Perceptive attention must rediscover its capacity for surprise, astonishment, and thus intimate questioning, which questions itself before questioning the legitimacy the other.
On the paths covered by Jean Rouch, the urgent lesson that he leaves behind is to always find new paths to endlessly question accepted truths and "continue the fight!" In Jean Rouch et Germaine Dieterlen "l'Avenir du Souvenir," a film directed by Philippe Constantini, Jean Rouch bids an emotional farewell to a young Dogon and says to him: "I am going to tell you a beautiful French phrase: what is the future of memory?"
Constantly renewing our questions, intriguing our imaginations, escaping our rules and our classifications, impertinent, always ahead of us despite all the delays, Jean Rouch is simply present!


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