Los Angeles Filmforum presents: Jean Rouch: Breaking the Ice


Jean Rouch is simply one of the most significant filmmakers of the 20th century, his approaches influencing innumerable films after him. Filmforum joins with the UCLA Film & Television Archive, REDCAT, and French Film & TV Office–Consulate General of France in Los Angeles to present this major retrospective of his work, the first in Los Angeles in many years, if ever.  But even this ten-evening series leaves out many of the over 100 films he made.  Many of the films have been brought from France for the series.  Tonight we not only feature on of his late shorts, but we also finally get to hear from Rouch himself, via an hour-long show he did with Robert Gardner in Boston in the 1970s, which includes excerpts from other films. 

Bateau-Givre  (Ice Ship) (1987, 35 min, 35mm-to-video.)
Sound recording and editing: Patrick Genet; Music: Luc Ferrari
Far removed from his habitual landscapes, Bateau-Givre was Rouch’s section of a collaborative work (other contributors included Luc Ferrari and Raoul Ruiz) that explored the Swedish icebreaker Frej. The resulting short is one of his most beautiful and contemplative films.

“This film formed part of a trilogy of films, which were shot on board the Swedish icrebreaker Frej, and which were originally made for television under the collective title, Brise-glace (Icebreaker).  Rouch was one of three filmmakers (the others were Tittle Törnroth and Raúl Ruiz) who were invited to spend a couple of weeks on board the Frej and make a film on a subject of their choice.  The proposal had a particular attraction for Rouch because his father had been a polar expeditionary.  Although he shot it handheld in his customary manner and the film was cut by Jean Ravel, who many years earlier had worked on Chronicle of a Summer, in other respects the film represents something of a break with Rouch’s past practice in that there is no voice-over, nor any significant dialogue, but rather a mosaic of colors and shapes.  It also features a complex stereophonic sound track recorded and later mixed by Patrick Genet.  The film makes no attempt to explain the technical process of ice-breaking but simply shows the crew going about their work (they speak, but there is no subtitling) while the ship makes its way through the vast natural splendor of the ice.” – Paul Henley, The Adventure of the Real: Jean Rouch and the Craft of Ethnographic Cinema, p. 412.

Screening Room with Robert Gardner: Jean Rouch (1980, video, 64 minutes)
Source: Studio7Arts

Jean Rouch appeared on Screening Room in July, 1980, and screened Les Maîtres Fous as well as several film excerpts including Rhythm of Work and Death of a Priest. Over a period of five decades Jean Rouch made many films about the Songhay and Dogon of West Africa. Regarded as one of the fathers of “Direct Cinema” and considered one of the most influential documentary makers of the twentieth century, his films are very difficult to find, particularly in North America.

“Fusing poetry and science, Jean Rouch showed us the wise path of the ancestors and guided us into a wondrous world where we not only encountered others, but also encountered ourselves.” — Paul Stoller, The Cinematic Griot: The Ethnography of Jean Rouch
A seminal figure of both film art and social science, Jean Rouch (1917-2004) represents a fountainhead of many aspects. A filmmaker who came to cinema gradually, Rouch had been a civil engineer in colonial Niger, where his observation of possession rituals formed the basis of his interest in anthropology. Formally trained to gather visual evidence, he evolved radically new approaches to documentary practice in Africa over many decades. Among these, one finds the assumption of scientific neutrality replaced by the possibility of fruitful and revealing stimulations in the acknowledgement of the camera, and the possibility of cinema as participating in and subject to trance states. Such affronts to received Western notions opened still-ongoing debates within anthropological circles. Rouch’s interest in the ontology of cinema led to experiments that proved hugely influential in his native France and worldwide, as in his most famous work Chronique d’un Été (1961), co-directed with Edgar Morin, now regarded as a foundation document of cinema verité and a cornerstone of the French New Wave. Rouch’s continuing work in post-colonial Africa evolved collaborative filmmaking approaches with colleagues including Damouré Zika and Oumarou Ganda, creating proto-fictional modes only partly distinct from documentary practice, and opening up the distinction of “ethno-fiction.“ This series samples but a fraction of Rouch’s vast cinematic output, and celebrates his unique contributions to human understanding.  – Shannon Kelley
Presented as part of Farther than Far: The Cinema of Jean Rouch, taking place January 25-February 23 in association with the French Film & TV Office–Consulate General of France in Los Angeles, UCLA Film & Television Archive, and REDCAT, beginning January 25th at UCLA.  Visit http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/events/2013-01-25/farther-far-cinema-jean-rouch and  www.redcat.org respectively, for information on these programs.

All films directed by Jean Rouch, unless otherwise noted.  All films in French with English subtitles, unless otherwise noted.

This series draws inspiration in part from the series “Here and Elsewhere: The Films of Jean Rouch” presented in Fall 2012 at the French Institute Alliance Française and Anthology Film Archives in New York, and curated by Sam Di Iorio and Jamie Berthe.

Special thanks to: Adrien Sarre, Lise de Sablet, Beatrice Arnaud, Delphine Selles-Alvarez–The Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States; Centre National du Cinéma et de l’image animée (Paris); Centre national de la Recherche Scientifique (Paris); Comité du film ethnographique (Paris); Institut français; Marie Losier-French Institute Alliance Française (New York); Jed Rapfogel—Anthology Film Achives; Sam Di Iorio—Hunter College; Jamie Berthe—New York University; Ayuko Babu–Pan African Film and Art Festival (Los Angeles); Emilie de Brigard; Shannon Kelley – UCLA Film & Television Archive

Tickets: $10 general, $6 students/seniors; free for Filmforum members.  Available by credit card in advance from Brown Paper Tickets at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/321104 or by cash or check at the door. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013, 7:30 pm
Spielberg Theatre at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90028


About Author

Robin Menken

Robin Menken Robin Menken lives in Los Angeles. She was the Artistic Director of the Second City Workshops, taught at UC Berkeley, USC, Barcelona\'s Ateneu and the Esalin Institute. She was Roberto Rossellini\'s assistant, and worked with Yevgeny Vevteshenku, Glauber Rocha and Eugene Ionesco. She sold numerous screenplays and wrote the OBIE winning The FTA SHow (touring with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Ben Vereen.) She was a programming consultant and Special Events co-ordinator for numerous film festivals, including the SF, Rio, Havana and N.Y Film Festivals. Her first news outlet was the historic East Village Other.

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