NYU’s Center for Media, Culture and History; International Visitor’s Program, Office of the Vice President of Academic Development; Dean Stimpson & GSAS; Dean Campbell, TSOA; Anthropology; Cinema Studies; Institute of African-American Affairs & Africana Studies; Institute of French Studies; La Maison Française; Center for European Studies; Director’s Series, Maurice Kanbar Dept. of Film & TV; and Cultural Services of the French Embassy, New York present:
Jean Rouch: Chronicles of African Modernities
April 6-8, 2000
A retrospective of groundbreaking films made by French cineaste and anthropologist Jean Rouch with his African friends, chronicling the emergence of distinct West African modernities over the last half century.
Screenings & Conversations
THURSDAY, APRIL 6, 5-7PM
Tisch School of the Arts, 721 Broadway, Room 006
Opening Remarks: Faye Ginsburg (Center for Media, Culture and History)
Screening: Moi, Un Noir (1959, 80 min.)
Discussant: Manthia Diawara (Africana Studies, NYU)
FRIDAY, APRIL 7
Casa Italiana, 24 West 12th Street
1-3PM: La Pyramide Humaine (1961, 80 min.)
Discussant: Jean Paul Colleyn (Visual Anthropology Unit, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris)
3-5PM: Jaguar (1954, 91 min.)
Discussant: Steve Feld (Anthropology, NYU)
Cantor Film Center, 36 East 8th Street
7-9PM: Petit à Petit (1969, 90 min.)
Introduction: Emilie de Brigard (Film Research)
Discussants: Manthia Diawara (Africana Studies, NYU), Paul Stoller (Anthropology, West Chester University)
SATURDAY, APRIL 8
Casa Italiana, 24 West 12th Street
2-4:30PM: Cocorico, Monsieur Poulet (1974, 90 min.)
Discussant: Paul Stoller
Cantor Film Center, 36 East 8th Street
7-9PM: Madame L’Eau (1992, 90 min.)
Moderator: Faye Ginsburg
Discussants: Jean Paul Colleyn, Manthia Diawara, Steve Feld, Paul Stoller
Transcription of the event follows. All conversations were transcribed by Jamie Berthe in November 2006, posted on Jamie Berthe’s website devoted to the films of Jean Rouch: http://www.maitres-fous.net/Chronicles.html. Footnotes and/or bracketed comments are remarks or translations that Jamie Berthe added to the original text. Parenthetical comments are intended to give the reader a more comprehensive understanding of the actual events, as they happened.
Chronicles of African Modernities: Opening Night
NYU April 6, 2000
screening: Moi, un noir
Thank you all for your patience, I think we have been able to accommodate everyone and if you have to get undressed to tolerate the room, it’s okay. (laughter) For anyone who doesn’t know me I am Faye Ginsburg and I am the director for the Center for Media, Culture and History and one of the organizers of this event and we are really delighted to have all of you here. Before I go into a proper introduction of this evening’s opening, I want to introduce briefly Cheryl Antoniel, who is a cinema scholar in her own right and also an Associate Dean for Film, Television and New Media at NYU… a very helpful ally…
(applause… Ginsburg passes the microphone)
(at the podium) No, I am going to go it without the microphone, thank you. This is a very special evening for me. As a student many years ago – vanity will prevent me from saying how many years ago – I was introduced to the work of Jean Rouch, the filmmaker, by two of my faculty members who are actually here today, Manthia Diawara and the first course was actually Faye Ginsburg in 1986, Ethnographic Film. During the years that followed, I had the privilege of discovering Jean Rouch the anthropologist and today, for the first time actually, as representative of the school and the university at this moment, I have the pleasure of meeting and actually introducing to you, the legendary guest, Jean Rouch, the man, who is right here.
(gestures towards Rouch – applause)
I think for me and, of course, for many people – because I have seen some of what has been written – his work evokes, and this is very personal, a sense of community that extends way beyond the usual boundaries and simultaneously possesses a very involved and sincere curiosity, one that embraces not only the daily lives of his subjects but their imaginations as well. And most profoundly, a sense of reverence that reads for us as a celebration of the other. So finally, I would like to honor you by saying that there are people, exceptional people, who have the power both as individuals and through their work, to introduce us to each other and bring us together and our honored guest is certainly one such example. So without further ado, thank you for reuniting me with my own teachers and welcome on behalf of Tisch and NYU.
(at the podium) Thank you Cheryl, and I have to say it’s really great when your former students work as deans because around here you need a lot of pull. (laughter) Anyway, before going into the introduction of the program, there are many people to thank and many supporters to acknowledge. The range of fields reflects the very broad interests that Jean Rouch’s work has provoked. For their help we are grateful to: The International Visitors Program; Deans Catherine Stimpson of the Faculty of Arts and Science and Mary Schmidt Campbell of the Tisch School of the Arts; the departments of Anthropology and Cinema Studies, Africana Studies and the Institute of African-American Affairs; the Institute of French Studies at La maison française; the Directors Series of the Maurice Kanbar of Film and Television; Veronique Godard and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy of New York; and, of course, Françoise Foucault of the Comité du film ethnographique at the Musée de l’Homme– we couldn’t have done it without her. In addition there are so many fantastic people – fellow colleagues, students – who have helped make this happen with their diverse talents and energy and without whom none of this could have happened. I won’t do the whole list, but quickly, Barbara Abrash, Lisa Stefanoff, Ruti Talmor, Pegi Vail, Patricia Blanchet, Jenny Tichenor, Karen Hewitt, Brian DeCubellis and that is just the start, so thank you all.
So, I too am very honored and delighted to be able to welcome Jean Rouch back to NYU and to New York and to open this three day retrospective of some of the most important and groundbreaking films that he has made in collaboration with his friends in Africa, over a period that spans the end of the colonial era to the present.
Since his first visit here, 12 years ago, at NYU, we have become a kind of second home for Rouch – I hope. A number of those of us who have studied and worked closely with him over the years are now teaching at NYU, myself, Manthia Diawara, Steve Feld recently joined us, Jean-Paul Colleyn comes from the l’École des Hautes Études to teach here occasionally, and we have invited Emilie deBrigard and Paul Stoller, one of the key scholars of Rouch’s work in West Africa to join us as well over the next few days.
Rouch has spoken frequently about his early career studying at l’École des Ponts et Chaussées, and his work of building and blowing up bridges during World War II. Over the last couple of days I have been reflecting on this and I decided that, actually, he never changed careers he just changed his materials. He has been building bridges all of his life, for over half a century, creating links between Africa and Paris, between imagination and everyday life, between fiction and documentary, between the past and the future, and every once in awhile he blow things up too. (laughter)
Rouch also says that his films give birth to other films and in that spirit, the origin story of this event is worth telling – it’s very brief, I promise – since this retrospective was actually conceived at the last one. In 1988 we first brought Rouch here in conjunction with an exhibition of Dogon art that opened at the Metropolitan Museum. We screened some of the more classic films that Rouch had made in Mali on Dogon ritual life and cosmology. At that time, Manthia Diawara asked why we weren’t also showing the other films like Moi, un noir or Petit à petit, what Manthia and [Ousmane Sembene?] called, at the time, the first films of African modernity; films that helped open up spaces of possibility for African intellectuals like Manthia and others of his generation of the 1960′s. We promised that we would meet again and show those films and talk about them. Well, it took us twelve years to make good on that promise but we think it’s been well worth the wait.
Now I think we are going to proceed to the screening of the film and have the conversation afterwards between Manthia and Jean. So, without further ado, thank you all for your patience and on to the film.
- screening -
Let me briefly introduce Manthia Diawara for the few of you who may not know him [sound cuts out for about five seconds ...] and most recently has become a documentary maker and a few years ago completed a work, Rouch in Reverse, which is a kind of reverse ethnography; the African coming to Paris and interrogating his ancestor here (gesturing toward Rouch). So, I know also, Manthia has talked a lot about the influence of Moi, un noir on him and on his own thinking and his own development and interest in thinking about a kind of African modernity. So, okay, I am going to let you take over…
Rouch: You start? (looking at Diawara)
Diawara: Alors. [So.]
Rouch: Alors, ca va? [So, everything okay?]
Diawara: Comment on fait? [How are we going to do this?]
Rouch: Comme tu veux. [However you like.]
Well, it certainly feels good seeing the film again. In a way… The importance of the film, I mean every time I see it it’s magnified in a sense that, as we saw Eddie Constantine at a point in the film, he is selling material from Gold Coast – he said this is the “latest style of 1957.” 1957 – Ghana independence is going on; Houphouet Boigny in Ivory Coast is not only the head of the PDCI  , he is also the chief of RDA  ; la loi cadre  is going on; Guinea is going to become independent. That is one kind of official modernity. There is another kind of official modernity that can be linked to tradition, to religion, to Islam and in a way Islam is organizing many of these groups into one identity. What I like about the film is the way in which Moi, un noir succeeds in telling a completely different story alongside these two official modernities – the religious one and the African independence/African decolonization one, which were all taking place at the same time.
What I like about Jean’s filming of that – I have a lot of notions but I am not going to talk to you too long, you came to listen to Jean – what is interesting is that you follow Jean, who is following these young people, who are following American “B” movies. And then, you get a real synchrony of style when Jean and these young people meet finally in the encounter between the Italian guy and Oumarou Ganda. Then you get film noir, you get the rain. You get all the rancor, all the jealousy, in this Baudelairian character basically – somebody who comes to the city, wants to be like the bourgeoisie and suddenly realizes that he cannot be like that. And that kind of envy says a lot more about Africa to me, and when I was growing up, than anything else. That envy, rancor, jealousy, hatred, you know, that the working class has accumulated toward all these kinds of modernities, really – toward white people, toward religious people, toward African elite. This is why I identify with Oumarou Ganda. It’s no accident that he became one of the first African filmmakers, one of the first modern – in the kind of modernity I am trying to define modernism – you know, Baudelairian characters that I am really – that later becoming whatever you want, Edward G. Robinson, James Dean, Blaxploitation movies, but it’s the same situation that we see. That is what is really great about the film. And Jean finds his style there. I mean, even watching the film today, I was talking to Bob Stam, you saw Nathalie and Dorothy L’Amour dancing. Exactly two years later, we see Brigitte Bardot is dancing like that. If you know your New Wave film, you’ve seen that. (laughter) Two years later, just two years later, in Vadim’s filmEt Dieu créa la femme, you get that… but there are lots of things that I can talk about in this film but I’ll let Jean talk.
Thanks. Okay, you see I can summarize the story of the film. I was an anthropologist and, after the Gold Coast, I was interested by the [inaudible] in Ivory Coast. We had a mission at the IFAN  , institut français de recherche  in Abidjan and we were in charge of organizing a survey about the migrants coming from the North – what they were doing and so on. We started to recruit some people who could fill out forms about that. We asked people from Upper Volta to the Moshi, to the people from Niger – like Oumarou Ganda and others – and people from Sudan to be there and do inquiries with the statistic service of Ivory Coast. And one day, I showed Les maitres fous to this group of young people. And they were very impressed and they said, “Why isn’t it possible for us to make another film and to tell another story?” And the story began in this way.
Among these people one of the most interesting was, maybe, Oumarou Ganda. An ex-fighter in Indochina – he was very intelligent, always against everybody. His pal, Eddie Constantine was really the seducteur and so on. They were a very strange people and they said, “We think that what you did in Accra is nothing in comparison to what we can do, and what we can do is a real film.” Yes. And then, it was a fantastic story because when I started to shoot I was using the same camera as I had before, a Bell and Howell 16mm with Kodachrome film, and for the sound, the same very old type of recording materials. And when we started suddenly there was no more Oumarou Ganda, there was the actors, they entered the story directly and they were making… they tried to make a film. And myself, I tried to make a film. It was a very strange way to do it, but for months and months we followed them in all kinds of places. My friend, a geographer, played the role of the boxer or the Italian and so on; the voice of the Italian is the voice of Enrico Fulchignoni from UNESCO. (laughter) We didn’t know anything about how to make a film. But the images – it was a silent film, as they say – told a wonderful story. And suddenly there was a drama – Eddie Constantine was put in jail. Well, I didn’t know what to do. It was July and we had finished our survey about Abidjan and following people there.
Then I went back to Paris with the first film, with the rushes. And I showed the film to Pierre Braunberger, who was the producer on the first film I made. And Pierre Braunberger was very fascinated by the film. He said to me, “Well, you can try to edit the film and in three months you can go back with a print and try to record a narration with these actors.” Well that is what I did, what we did.
So we have the story, we didn’t know exactly, there was no dialogue [script]. Eddie Constantine was out of jail and they were, these boys and myself were very serious but we didn’t know where we were going. We started to try to do post-synchronization for the sound. It was done at Radio Abidjan – there was no place to make films at this time. We put a projector outside the window and we used the radio technician to record the narration. It was a really…well, suddenly we screened the image and Robinson and Constantine just improvised the narration. There was no problem. The people at the radio were absolutely confused. (laughter) And the text was recorded in one day. Well, it was so extraordinary that I hardly understood what we had done.
We went back to Paris. Then, as was done for Les maitres fous, Pierre Braunberger blew the film up into 35mm. We had a wonderful editor and we worked to edit the film. It was not very difficult. It was a little long because we were making it, inventing the music and so on. The problem happened at the end when Pierre Braunberger decided that the war in Indochina was not a good part of the film; that it would be better to have some footage shot in Indochina. Myself, I thought this idea was stupid; I thought that Oumarou Ganda’s description of the war was so dramatic, it needed nothing more. So, we discussed and discussed and Pierre Braunberger said, “Okay, I’ll ask one of your friends to come to a screening and we’ll ask what he thinks.” And it was François Truffaut. François Truffaut came and at the end of the film he said, “Jean, thank you, you gave me a way to finish Les 400 Coups. I have to use the same technique.” Then Pierre Braunberger said, “Aha! You two have been in contact before!” (laughter) And we said “No, no, no.” So Pierre Braunberger said “Alright, the film will be done your way.” The film won an important award  and we decided to have the premiere in Abidjan.
There was more trouble because Abidjan was now in the new constitution of the French colonies and there was a lot of censorship by stupid French men. (laughter) We had a screening with all my friends in Abidjan, Eddie Constantine, they were all there, and the girls were there. We had prepared a wonderful dinner because it had won an award, which was very good. At the end of the film, a stupid French officer said, “No. It’s impossible to show a film like that.” And Oumarou Ganda, who was there, asked, “Why?” And he said, “Because it has a fight between a white and a black and you don’t have the right to show things like that nowadays.” Oumarou Ganda said, “But I wasn’t the winner. The white guy was the winner.” (laughter) The man didn’t say anything. We spent such a sad evening, even if we still had the dinner and the film was screened.
But there is a god or a devil for the strange filmmakers like me. The film had tremendous success. They released a censored version but after a month the print had to be changed. But there was no other print in Abidjan, the diffusion [distribution/circulation] was in Dakar. They asked someone from Dakar to send them a new print but the new print had not been censored. So the film had a new existence. The man in the cinema house wrote “nouvelle version” [new version] and that was our revenge. (laughter). That is the story of this film. It’s really… for me, when I see these images I am very moved. Some of these people have died. Others.. Leone, who was Tarzan, became a very important boxer. He went back to Niger and was put in charge of training athletes for Niger. The others, well, it’s difficult to say. My friend, Bernus, thought he wasn’t a good actor. Fulchignoni liked the work very much. We thought it might be possible to go on. We went back to Niamey with the film. That’s when Oumarou Ganda decided to make a film about the war in Indochina. He shot the film in Niamey with the French army, the Nigerian army, and with all the people who had brought back some of the wonderful ladies from Indochina. It was his first film. I was very proud because it was again the birth of a new filmmaker. That is, for me, fantastic. He became a very important guy in Niamey. His idea was to make films in this style. He was in charge of a group called “L’heure du conte” – time to tell stories. He worked all over, wherever there were school boys whom he could ask to tell stories. He would collect these stories and with these stories he would make new films. Everything was fantastic. Another Nigerian was making films. I saw that I had done something, that there was a new style of cinema being born there. Unfortunately two years later, Oumarou Ganda died, the very day of Christmas. There was what we call in Songhay a salut de destin [tribute to destiny]. There was a big meeting with all these people who were filmmakers and, later on, there was an international meeting of cinema there. People coming from Dakar, all over, asked to know if they could pay a visit to Oumarou Ganda’s tomb. But in this country there is no such place. It would have been impossible to find the tomb; it was only a stone and nobody knew where it was. But there was a sculpture of Oumarou Ganda where we had a very extraordinary gathering, which is the way to celebrate the death of friend. Nowadays in Niger, Oumarou Ganda is a kind of legend. The new, young people who are in cinema, come to me and ask, “Is it true, did he exist?” and so on.
You see, maybe our friendship came from the fact that I had been in the war against the Germans. I was an ex-soldier. And I lost the war. And Oumarou Ganda told me that he felt like he had lost too, in Indochina. We were like two of Napoleon’s soldiers coming back from the Russian defeat, coming back to Paris with the feeling that we are foreigners in our own country. We felt like foreigners in a country of filmmakers.
Diawara: You know, people can jump in any time and ask questions. I’m just trying to get the conversation going, so if you don’t like what I am saying, ask a question whenever you’re ready. But, the film is at the origin of so many things. When you see, for example, the Goumbés.  TheGoumbés which could be associated with youth and with initiation dances – there were elaborate dances, but they had discipline and they dressed in similar ways. So Goumbés became a mark of a kind of modernity in West Africa. A variation of the Goumbés could also be bals poussieres, for example, in other places. You also show the beginning of High Life in the film. You know, which will later lead toward people like [Amelie Pierre?] and that kind of music in night clubs and dance halls. But the film also reveals a sense of nostalgia for the part of Africa that will never return again, but that anthropologists are still holding onto. (Diawara affectionately puts his arm on Rouch’s shoulder and the audience laughs). Like when the kids are jumping into the water and when you see Tarzan, these beautiful scenes. In a way the film becomes, for me, the birth of an Africa that is going to be Africa. You can’t get any other Africa beyond this Africa basically – with all its alienation. In fact, the alienation is what I find so formidable about the film.
Rouch: Thanks Manthia, it’s true. Well, we thought we had done something. It was a dream machine. Because there was no other solution. And at the same time, there was this victory against the stupid white officers. And there was something very important about this victory. Like with my friends from the New Wave in Paris. We became very close and we were all ready to fight each other. For example, when there was the fight for the Cinématéque française. We were all ready to fight for each other. In fact we all had the same disease – we were in love with cinema. And maybe, as we say in French, it’s a maladie honteuse [a shameful disease] and there is no remedy. Well, the only remedy is to make films. Of course, when you make films, some are good and some are not good, but that doesn’t mean anything. They each follow something very strange. Like with Bernus, who was a very good geographer (he worked Theodore Monod and is now a specialist in the Sahara desert) and now, when he sees this film and he says, “Oh my goodness, it was so wonderful. We were so happy.”
Diawara: Can you talk about the migration of workers from Upper Volta and Niger? Because in this very moment, about 15, 000 workers from Upper Volta and Burkina Faso have been expelled from Ivory Coast and are now in Burkina Faso and have no… [video cuts]
Rouch: … the beginning of the record. When I was making the sound, I was, myself, so moved. There was nothing for me to do, the film was speaking by itself. In the beginning it was a silent film and less then five hours later, it was a sound film. That was some kind of strange miracle. It was very important for the films I did later on; and for the people of Niamey it was important too. We now had dreams on the other side of the window.
Diawara: Questions? Comments?…
Audience member: Pourquoi le choix de l’italien? Pourquoi le choix, parce qu’il aurait pu etre français ou…? 
Rouch: That is a very good question. Because we saw that one evening in the desert – there was an Italian in the middle of the desert. I asked my friend Fulchignoni to do it and he was happy to do it. He was not an actor in the beginning. He was initially a psychoanalyst and then started working for UNESCO. He was so happy to play this role. He was really the Italian sailor and the language he had, what he said was pure Italian language that he improvised in less than one hour that people can do with my credo: the first take is always the best. Which is not always true, you know that, but we try. We try.
Audience member: I would like to ask what happened with the subtitles in the film?
Rouch: It’s just a very bad print. It is quite difficult to have the most recent print. We have another print, in better condition but the narration is in French. People think that there is no interest for the film in English. And I knew that there was this problem with the film.
It’s very strange, Dorothy Lamour asked me to make a certificate for her stating that during this film, she did not have a real romance because otherwise, she would have had trouble with her family and boyfriends. And that was so strange to have Dorothy Lamour ask this question.
The second point on which I had trouble was the music. The song we used was originally written for Bamako. (Rouch sings song) Then the people in Bamako were asking for the rights [royalties]. (laughter) And I said to Pierre Braunberger, now that is your job and he was very happy to demonstrate that it was an original song made for the film and that there was no author to pay. But anyway he was obliged to pay with the system of music that was on the film.
It was always a wonderful adventure. Thanks a lot to all of the people, and to Françoise, for doing this program. We have seen the film together over one hundred times and it’s always… well, maybe I am too proud.
Diawara: The film is very important on the level of style. I am now analyzing the photography of Malick Sidibé. I don’t know if you are familiar with it, but what Malick Sidibé did maybe 20 years later – ’67, he followed the youth in Africa who were going out to parties. They were dressed like Jimi Hendrix and James Brown, with afros, the Beatles, and they have music records. Malick Sidibé just went out and followed them and took their pictures. And at the best moments of his photography, you realize that his photographs have actually become a sort of store for the nostalgia of the sixties. If you want to understand the sixties, even the American sixties, you have to go to Malick Sidibé’s photography to see certain things. Similarly in Moi, un noir, what is fascinating to me, when you look at the dream sequences, for example, typical of that kind of fantasy that one used to have during the New Wave… you know, that the new France has come. Mini-skirts, new governments, De Gaulle and so on. Whatever. What you get at some point in this film is that Dorothy L’amour, she is actually a movie poster. In some instances, like in the bar, Dorothy becomes the drawings of the posters behind her. What is interesting to me in terms of style is that we have so many levels of copying taking place. Jean is copying the youth, who are copying American B movies, and then all of that becomes an original style suddenly. This is what we have now with Blaxploitation and Tarantino and other filmmakers. We are really outside of anthropology. We are in artifice now and this is where I am and I love that.
Rouch: You are right. It was very important also for the new style of music. Incredibly important. When I was chairman of the Cinématéque française for three years, we invited the authors of some of the great American films and they saw this film. And I wanted to ask them something… well you see, I learned how to make films by going to the popular cinema with Bernus in Abidjan, and discovering that the reaction of the audience happened in time with what was going on onscreen. When there was a fight you would hear, “oh, ah, uhhh, oh.” And there was one thousand people doing this; it was fantastic and totally improvised. And I told this story to the people who make all these films in Hollywood. And they told me, “Well you’re right. When we did the film, we put some hot jazz music on the phonograph and we edit the image to follow the sound and rhythm of the music.” They were doing the editing that way and it prepared the film for the wonderful rhythmic reaction of the 1,000 people, who would go “oh, ah, uhh, oh.”
And I told this story to Truffaut, and he liked it very much. He said, “But in my film, you see, the rights [royalties] of the musicians in France are so heavy that what can you do with that? If you ask them to play something they say no.” That’s the story.
Ginsburg: We can take two more questions and then we have to wrap it up.
Audience member: Now that it’s years after independence in Africa is this interest and obsession with America still a part of African modernity, or is there a different idea of African modernity?
Rouch: My answer is very simple. African modernity belongs to the Africans themselves. Maybe I played a role of, let’s say of an entraineur [trainer], but African modernity belongs to the Africans. I am not an African. Sometimes I decide that my real identity… I’m a man from Barcelona (laughter). And I like it. But anyway…
Diawara: I just want to make a comment, not really answer. When we were growing up, we were imitating French people imitating Americans; so you see, it was removed like that. I think it is probably still the same way because rap music goes through France… no, it does go directly to Senegal now. Still…
Audience member: Are there Africans who imitate Africans?
Diawara: In the work I am doing what is happening is this: In the sixties you have African youth imitating people like James Brown, who thought he was imitating traditional African shamanism. James Brown’s red cape, the way he breathes; he doesn’t say much but he exorcises everybody – and then that goes back to Africa and then the African youth imitates that and then you get people like Salif Keita who are again taking it back into the world. To me, imitation is a positive word. I love alienation, in a way. It goes around, and then goes around again. It isn’t like I am taking everything out of Africa and saying that Africa is not playing any role in the process. Without alienation I wouldn’t be sitting in a room full of white people like this. I love that, I think it’s great.
Rouch: When I was younger we were fond of jazz. And I discovered Louis Armstrong; I went to his first concert in Paris, when I was very young, I was 15 years old. It was very expensive. And there was the director of Hot Club de France, Hugues Panassie, he was a wonderful man, and when Louis Armstrong started to play “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” he stopped him and said, “Please not the high notes. Please. I heard you on a record when I was young when you sang it in the low notes. It’s fantastic.” And Louis Armstrong said, “oh yeah?” And I was there! And for me, as a young boy, it was extraordinary to be there. And then, smiling, Louis started singing in the low notes. And at the end there was an explosion of joy. And for me – you see, I was only 14 years old – this was the discovery of something absolutely international. Louis Armstrong was at home in Paris and Hugues Panassie was at home in New York and Chicago.
And my position, which is absolutely a dream, is this: if you are an artist, you have no borders. Well, of course, I have a passport, but I am not sure it’s a real one. (laughter)
Ginsburg: We are going to take these two questions and then afterwards I invite you, actually we are having a reception upstairs and he is a very accessible person so… but it’s hot here and I know people would like something to eat so…
Audience members: Well frankly, I think we should end on this question of we have no borders. However, on the question of imitation, I noticed in the film that when they do the cha-cha-cha the lyrics are being sung in Spanish. Now, possibly, as you say Manthia, this came by way of France, but I don’t think the French would sing the cha-cha-cha in Spanish, they would sing it with French lyrics.
Diawara: No, you’re right. When you look at the birth of High Life and then, the rhumba, and music like the pachenga in West Africa – all of this popular music came with sailors from Cuba and other places to Africa but was danced to in night clubs that were accessible first to ex-patriots, and Africans only came to that later. So even when the music is in Spanish and English and not in French or African languages, I think that the symbolic capital is driven through the French elite who brought it to Africa.
Audience member: But what I find remarkable is that they’re singing the lyrics accurately in Spanish, and I assume that they don’t speak Spanish but they know these lyrics!
Diawara: Yeah, you’re right.
Audience: but the rhumba comes from Africa… the rhumba and the pachenga, it’s linked to the slaves…
Rouch: I can tell you a wonderful story. During the Festival des Arts Negres in Dakar, there in Senegal, in Dakar there was this festival of art. I was there with Mustafa Alassane and some other people with my [Nagra?]. Duke Ellington was the guest of honor. He was there with his fantastic orchestra in the Serrano Theatre. And suddenly he did what he used to do in his own country and said, “Please give me your favorites.” So I asked to hear The Saddest Tale which is not very well known. It’s the story of a man who was put in jail. And he was very happy and he started to sing and he sang the song. “The saddest tale they told me…” By the end we were all en larmes [in tears]. At the after-party he asked, “Where did you hear this song?” And I told him that I had been at one of his concerts in Paris, 20 years ago. That is our privilege. We can be provocateurs.
Diawara: That is right; that’s why I take advantage of the great Jean Rouch’s presence to provoke as many people as I can. (laughter)
Audience member: I was thinking as we listened to the voice-over, knowing that Oumarou Ganda and Jean Rouch were in the recording studio afterwards, I had a sense of somebody who takes on a role as an actor or somebody who is looking at images and all the references to Paris and to France and the U.S., all those things come together afterwards. I was wondering if while you filmed, if Oumarou Ganda had a sense of being an actor or a sense of being himself?
Rouch: Oumarou Ganda took himself for a filmmaker and that’s all. (laughter). He thought if somebody else could play this role better, I would give it to him. He was like that. Myself, in some films I did play some roles but I am not very good. This profile is good (turns to the left) but not this one (turns to the right – laughter) Like the old Egyptian drawings.
Ginsburg: Alright, thank you everyone. There is a reception upstairs. And I have to tell you, screenings for the next two nights will be in a much bigger theater. Thanks for bearing with us.
(Rouch and Diawara hug affectionately)
Chronicles of African Modernity: Day 2
Casa Italiana (NYU) April 7, 2000
screening: La pyramide humaine
Ginsburg: Hi, if I could have your attention. Welcome to the 2nd day of the retrospective of the work of Jean Rouch “Chronicles of African Modernity.” This afternoon the screening will beLa pyramide humaine. I am just going to introduce it briefly because we’ll have the opportunity for a conversation afterwards. Of course, you all know who Jean Rouch is, I am not going to continue to do introductions for him. We’re very fortunate that Jean-Paul Colleyn has become a sort of itinerant between l’École des Hautes études Sociales in Paris, where he is a professor and director of the visual anthropology unit and also has been teaching here at NYU in the Anthropology Department, particularly in the Culture and Media program. Like Jean, he has been working most of his life in West Africa. He is also a filmmaker who’s not up to Jean’s 120 films, but has made approximately 50 films in West Africa as well. He is a prolific author with a long and distinguished career. He has written Les Chemins d’Inya, Nikpiti, and more recently a wonderful book called Le regard documentaire. He’s also starting a really innovative project on the history of ethnographic film and documentary, using new CD rom and DVD technologies which is really exciting. And the prototype is actually on Rouch and we did a demonstration of it earlier this week. So we’re really grateful that Jean-Paul could be with us today to be the interlocutor afterwards.
So, just a few words about La pyramide humaine. Obviously, 1961, so it comes right after Moi, un noir and continues the notion of kind of improvising a drama, this time between white and black students in the Lycée d’Abidjan. What I’ll say breifly, that it was top on the list of the 10 best films of 1962 selected by Jean-Luc Godard for Cahiers du Cinéma. It was also, in 1965, selected by Jean-Luc Godard as one of the six best French films made since 1940. So, it has a distinguished career that continues to the present. So, we’ll get going.
- screening -
Ginsburg: Well, the story will now continue. I’d like to invite Jean Rouch and Jean-Paul to come up and speak to you.
Colleyn: Well, that is quite a piece. I think we all understand why the New Wave was so interested in this film. The first question we have to ask is when did you discover that special power of the camera to create something new and not just record something that already exists?
Rouch: Well I haven’t seen this film in over five years. But I think we were crazy to make a film like this. But fortunately we were very crazy. (laughter) The idea was to make a feature film. We had a producer behind us, Pierre Braunberger, but it was a strange story and we were playing with fire all the time. I’ll start with a bit of background.
All these students were preparing for their baccalauréat. When I asked their families for permission to make the film, they said I had to wait until after the exam, during winter holidays. The result was that only one of the kids passed the exam and all the others were sacked. I was not responsible. (laughter) Of course, the only one who passed was Denise. So then we made the film.
Colleyn: But they didn’t have much time to study, because they were making the film.
Rouch: Yes. But the next September the entire group passed their baccalauréat, which means that they learned something. And my role wasn’t so negative and in some way I am very proud of that.
Colleyn: Maybe we should go immediately to questions; I think it’s the best way to handle the reception of the film.
Audience member: I was just curious to know if these bonds lasted over the years.
Rouch: Yes. They were part of a generation. You see, this film was very difficult to distribute in France. We were being threatened. In the end it was the association “Anti-Raciste” who pushed the film.
Colleyn: Yes, the film was banned in all French territories.
Rouch: Yes. And after the first screening of the film, my flat on rue de Grenelle was attacked by people who had broken the door and the windows. It was a strange way to make a political statement.
And one of the first screenings was at the Cinématéque française and all my friends from the New Wave were there. Truffaut even asked Nadine if she would play a role in Tirez sur le pianiste. That was her entrance.
I think it’s strange because it shows that maybe fiction is a stronger than documentary.
Colleyn: But in a way, it’s more like creating a group dynamic rather than pure fiction.
Rouch: But we were playing with fire…or with the waves. That last shot was absolutely stupid. That boat was very dangerous. At first it was Alain who said he could swim around the boat and get out. And I was following him with my camera but then he stopped and said, “No, I can’t do it.” Then stupidly, I put my camera down and dove in the water to show him I could swim out. And with this boat it was very dangerous. So the boy jumped in and we shot but I must say, during the last shoot we did there, at one point I saw him get lost in the waves. I was looking out in the waves and I thought he wasn’t there. Then my assistant turns to me and says, “Jean il est sorti” [Jean he's out]. And whew! (sighs) You see, then we were in full drama. (laughter).
Audience member: When you started to make this kind of synchronization, this style of cinema, who were talking to? Rouquier? Were you friends with Rouquier? Did you have discussions with other filmmakers? I mean, how did this evolve?
Rouch: Yes, I was a member of the New Wave in France. You see that was the strange thing. I was always at the Cinémathéque française. The Cinémathéque française was on rue Dume, in a small part of the Latin Quarter. The theater was not very good. The only decent seats were in the front row. So every evening I was going there and there were strange young fellows there and they knew a lot about film. When the film was good, they would discuss it. And when the film was bad you could just lay down in the aisles. (laughter) It was very nice. But I didn’t know who they were; they were younger than me. Then one day Langlois asked me to show a film that I had not finished. He asked me to screen the film and use a mic to improvise the narration. The copy wasn’t very good and suddenly there was a cut in the film, but with my mic I was able to finish my sentence. And I heard them discussing how it was possible that the sound kept going if the reel had cut. And suddenly they saw me there with a mic. I waved to them and at the end of the film they came to introduce themselves: Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer and so on. They knew my name and I became a member of this group of people they called the New Wave.
Colleyn: It’s important to be precise for those who don’t know it: Godard has said several times that he was inspired by your style of cutting and by the way you created a new effect in cinema with this kind of performance and experiment.
Rouch: Yes, and you see, for them I was a strange man making strange films like this one. But they recognized that there was something which could stimulate the New Wave to be a bigger wave. (laughter)
Colleyn: For instance, Jacques Rivette, who makes films very different from yours, said that he felt you were even more important than Godard for French cinema because Godard has a style that cannot be followed, that cannot be used as a model for anybody. Whereas with your films…every Rouch film is an example for other filmmakers. That’s a beautiful tribute.
Rouch: Yes, but you see, we are a very strange family. We were a group. We played an important part in the history of the Cinémathéque and also in May ’68. For example, when I made Chronicle of a Summer with Edgar Morin, at this time one of our heroines was in love with Rivette. And in the film Rivette accepted to be an actor for real life. It’s a strange way to make films. And we shared our experiments. It’s strange to say but we shared our souls. You see, at this time it was very difficult to be a French man. Myself, I was older than them. I had the immense advantage of having been through a war with the German army. I was an ex-soldier and I had lost the war. And that changes everything – when you lose a war and find yourself with horrible French politics after the war. And I was an anthropologist; I was always going far away and they were not. I was some sort of strange navigator. I would have liked to be [Errol Loyd?].
Audience member: Can you say something about the context of the film and why it was banned? Because in a way it almost seems like an allegory for decolonization coming out of the 1960′s.
Rouch: I don’t remember. [Paul Lucere?] just said “Your film is forbidden.” They asked us to cut some sequences but I don’t remember if we did it. Maybe. All those things about South Africa, about apartheid. That was the idea.
Colleyn: Of course, because French policy was involved.
Rouch: Yes, but we knew all the tricks; we were tricheurs [tricksters / cheaters] in fact. Once the film became a success and there was only one print, so when it was finished, the lab would need another print and we didn’t cut the parts that were censored. So you could play with the idea of a “new version.”
Colleyn: So the more the film was used, the better the film was? (laughter)
Audience member: I would like your comment on the fact that everything that might have seemed shocking about the film has just evaporated with time and what’s left is just the perfume of the poetry.
Rouch: Well, that’s a good question. And what happened later on? After the film I said they all went back. But Alain joined the Foreign Legion and went back to fight in Algeria. It means he was the hero of the film. That’s strange.
And Nadine, well, some of our friends…everyone in this group was making films with each others actors. She had the opportunity to become a young star and she decided not to, to continue. Now she is the Director of The Museum of Music at La Villette. She went on and got a degree there. At first she wanted to be an anthropologist but she thought it was difficult. Her love life is very complicated. We made Paris vu par with her, and she fell in love with Becker, the cameraman for the film. And they were married.
Colleyn: You do that in all your films?! There is a love story and a marriage?! (laughter)
Rouch: Yes, they married and she said to me, “Jean, the Becker family is horrible. I’ll get out.” And you see, I’m not comparing myself to the Godfather, but, there was something like… (laughter)
Colleyn: …it’s like you create the situation where love stories…
Rouch: …like Eros – rather close to Greek mythology. (laughing)
Colleyn: It was very smart to choose the problem of sexuality to illustrate racism because it is a hot topic – with fantasy and fear.
Rouch: Yes, but it was strange because I was a cameraman discovering the film and they were so moved at the same time. We discovered with them this Harris church – because Raymond was a Harris. And then there was this mix with Arthur Rimbaud. And I like all of that.
Colleyn: Harris is a new church in Africa, created by African people to emancipate Africa from white domination.
Rouch: Yes. And what else happened? Landry, who was a very wonderful guy, finished his studies in France. Then he went back to Abidjan.
Colleyn: He played in another one of your films.
Rouch: Yes, he made another film with me and he made a Canadian film about a community in Ivory Coast. But at one point, he decided to solve the problem of his own identity. He had been educated [brought up] by his grandmother and his mother, and he never met his father. So he had some girlfriends and so on. And he was married with a girl who was a nurse and they had a son, and he decided to ask the mother to get out and to make the education of [raise] his son alone. He wanted to have a son who could be educated [raised] by men and not women. And it wasn’t exactly a mess. (laughs) But now he’s the director of a rubber company in Ivory Coast. He’s a very wealthy gentleman. And sometimes he comes to Paris and we have dinner parties and it’s like, let us say, a diner des anciens combatants [veterans' dinner].
Colleyn: I remember a few years ago that Nathalie was in Paris and you wanted her to dance, to do some sort of a remake of the film and she refused because her partner was dead. It was very cute.
Rouch: Denise probably had the most difficult problems. She was the daughter of the President of the Republic of Upper Volta. And she decided to stay in Ivory Coast and she has a very important political position. She had some trouble with her brothers. They were students in Paris and they wanted to marry models [supermodels]. So she had to play the role of the mother who says no. She asked me to come to the dinner too, with the brother and the girl, to help her explain the situation. I was a kind of step-grandfather.
Ginsburg: Can you talk a bit more about the plot of the film, how you found it?
Rouch: Well, in the beginning we didn’t know. It was total improvisation. And the producer was very anxious.
Colleyn: Of course! (laughter) Was there a text somewhere? I mean, we do recognize some aspect of Rouch poetry. The story with the heart, and its divisions…
Rouch: Yes, but Pierre Braunberger… well, there are no more producers like him. He was a crook. He used to say you had to be a crook to be a producer. But he was a crook with a very good eye. We loved him. Pierre Braunberger was a kind of hero for all the New Wave directors. I remember there was an homage to Pierre Braunberger at Beaubourg. I was with Damouré Zika in the cinema and Pierre was there. And they asked him to present himself and his presentation went like this: My grandfather was a doctor. My father was a doctor. Then, I have to say it in French but Jean-Paul will translate it – Il y a que moi qui a mal tourné [I'm the only one who went sour].
Colleyn: I’m the only one who turned bad. (laughter)
Rouch: Well, everyone applauded and he was very proud of that. I remember when he died – he was a Jew – and before he died he asked me to carry his body in the cemetery of Montparnasse. Strangely, I was carrying the coffin with another man who was the director of the Centre national du cinéma. We were carrying this body and the man turns to me and says, “Wow. I didn’t know this guy was so heavy.” (laughter) So that was our derniére blague [last joke] with Pierre Braunberger.
Audience member: I am very struck by your celebration of young people, and their exuberance and vitality in your films. And the way you take groups of young people and see where they are going. I wonder if you can say a little more about your attraction to that particular age group, which is very distinctive in your films.
Rouch: Well, amongst all of us, we were all in love with Nadine. (laughter) And when we started the film they knew each other but there was no contact between them. So I was a kind of step-father. That’s the story. But there was something else behind it. Among Nadine’s books there was one by Paul Eluard with this wonderful poem, “La dame de carreau” (“The Queen of Diamonds”). You see, when I was young Paul Eluard was so strange and “La dame de carreau” was like having the doors of dreams open. I think it was our story. It was made for this generation which had been so influenced by surrealism.
Colleyn: I think it is very interesting that you go through poetry to make a very political film and also a film that is psychologically very interesting, although you were not interested in Karl Marx and not in Sigmund Freud.
Rouch: Yes. And later on I made a film with Nadine and Landry, which was a stupid film we decided to do in one day. It was the story of Nadine who was having some trouble in school and gets sent home, so she discovers Luxembourg [gardens] and les quais [the banks of the Seine], and then she meets Landry and they discover the Museum of Natural History. We decided to shoot the film. I was the cameraman with a good soundman. The film was supposed to be one hour. Our challenge was to see if we could shoot a long feature film in one day and with only 20 reels. And we did that. We finished the film and I got a message from André Breton – because I had used some of his poems – and he said he was very moved by the film. I was so happy because…
Colleyn: That’s very good.
Audience member: I don’t really have a question I just wanted to say that I thought it was interesting that coming out today in New York is this film called Black and White by James Tobac which is an improvised film about documentary and the possible relationships between black and white youths in America and whether they can be friends. It is kind of a strange coincidence.
Rouch: Je crois que je vais demander une indemnité. (laughs) C’est Kodak? 
Colleyn: Jean thinks they should have to pay a fee. (laughter)
Rouch: Yes, they have to pay their fee… (laughing)
Colleyn: Thank you very much Jean. (applause)
Rouch: (turns toward audience) And thanks to you. You see, throughout this time, during this discussion, we were sharing real emotions. I think that is the real key to cinema. Nothing else is as important as that. Thanks a lot.
Chronicles of African Modernities: Day 2
NYU April 7, 2000
- screening -
Ginsburg: I just want to remind everyone that at 7 o’clock there is a screening of Petit à petit,which again is one of the films which is not generally available for distribution in the US. That is over at the Cantor Film Center which is at 36 E 8th Street and the doors should open about a quarter of seven. Bring your friends, it’s a big theater and we have a lot of space. Okay. It is my pleasure to introduce this conversation between Jean Rouch and Steve Feld. For those of you who don’t know Steve Feld, he is a professor of Anthropology at NYU. He was the first person to translate Jean Rouch’s work into English and also translated and edited an issue of Studies in Visual Communication of all the material on Chronicle of a Summer. Many of you have seen that issue. He is also an ethnomusicologist and a musician and has produced CDs of the music from the area of New Guinea where he works. And they are old friends these two. And I know that Steve is a big fan, we are all big fans of Jaguar, but I think he has some particular interests he wants to raise before we open up for discussion.
Feld: Permit me a word of appreciation before we start.
Rouch: I’m very happy when I see this film. It’s full of so many good memories. In the beginning there is a dédicace [dedication] to a famous French actor, Gerrard Phillipe. He became my friend because we were close to the theater of Chaillot [Cinémathéque française] at the Musée de l’Homme and we became friends because we were both making films. The film [Jaguar] was shot in Kodachrome. I was working with a Bell and Howell that I had to rewind every 20 seconds. And when it came time for editing and to make the print and we had no money. Gerrard Phillipe said, “well, I can give you half a million [francs].” I said, “Yeah?” And he said, “It’s for you because I am very wealthy and you’re a filmmaker and I’m a film actor.” That’s why I dedicated the film to Gerrard Phillipe. And what’s strange is that, I must say, no anthropologist and no professor at the Sorbonne gave me a penny. (laughter) Anyway.
The second point I’d like to make is rather extraordinary. It was a crazy affair to make a film like this. Every 20 seconds I was rewinding the camera. But during this time I was speaking to the actors and we would invent the next part of the story. That was a very strange way to proceed. When I see the film, the images are so good. And I’m no longer working with the Kodachrome. That was the original Kodachrome which was really a first class camera. The sound was made on a pretty small box that we had to rewind all the time. And well, the sound is not so good, but it was my first film.
When we screened the film in Niamey, it was really strange because a lot of people [who were in the film had] died, so we would have to stop the film and let everyone cry a little. You see, Lam died. The older singers of Ayoru died. The chief of Ayoru died. Today there are maybe two survivors, Damouré and myself. The film is at the same time a souvenir [record] of the very important discovery that this was the beginning of African independence. You see the CPP  film was a real discovery. We were there. And when Damouré was playing the role of the photographer and he took the picture of Kwame Nkrumah and said in the narration “le bien nourri” [the well fed one]. It means that there was always this kind of joking in the narration, which was improvised. These kinds of jokes happened all the time. And that was not so bad. It’s a kind of chronicle of a time that has disappeared forever. But it has disappeared forever and it hasn’t, because this film exists. And that for me is the strength of cinema and the emotion of cinema. What a strange way to have a memory. This memory you can share it year after year with a new public. And I think that, for me, this is very moving and encouraging. (turns to Feld) You understand what I mean?
Feld: Yes. Jean, I also love this film also because of the sound. There is so much with the voices. It’s not just the words that people are saying, but just the sound, the humor, the feeling, the emotion of the voices. Can you tell us a bit about your technique in making the soundtrack? Because it is such a completely unique soundtrack.
Rouch: As an anthropologist, I was really discovering a time when Africa was really turning a page. I didn’t know that exactly but I knew that there was something. When I was working in the North I knew it quite well. Well, the Hauka were coming from this region. Everything was starting then. I must say, very simply, for Damouré and myself and the others, it was our duty to make a film like this. And when we had to finish the film, well, it was done very strangely. I thought it was necessary to have this kind of narration. Narration is the way to tell the story and to find the way of the griot,  and to find the way of the people speaking. We did it very easily. We screened the film, we held up some mics and Damouré and the others improvised the narration. And they were telling their story to another person. It was kind of a strange conversation in front of the images. We did it very strangely. Sometimes we had to do parts again. So we did it again in another place, and shot the film again with a new narration. We worked for two years on the film. Then one day the film was put on the screen. For my friends in France it was a way to… André Bazin, the critic, wrote something extraordinary about this film – that I was opening forbidden doors. No, they were not forbidden doors, they were open, but you had to go in.
And we didn’t know what we were getting into. We had been filming for weeks and when we came back – I’ll give you an example, it’s an amusing one – when we came back to cross the border it was really a shame to us to see all these people there asking for money. And then they would have to take the money out of their pocket and give it to the government. But what could we do? We could joke. You see, when we came back we did recognize some friends. We went by Ouagadugou and one of my friends who worked there, [Yves Faun?], asked if he could come with us to Niamey. And I don’t know if you saw that, and I don’t know if it’s a shame, but the last car we are in has a white driver. That was him driving the car. And when we saw the film in Ouaga everyone was asking, “Why don’t you open the door?” and he answered, “Jean asked me to be invisible.” (laughter). And you see, there are so many things like that, things that were really part of the discovery of something else.
You see the last dance scene, it was one of the last done in Ayoru – now they are no longer held – and [Ansataga Delizé?] was a fantastic singer and player, and the dancers there were absolutely wonderful. You see, it was at the same time… well, Damouré, of course, fell in love with a young girl. And this caused a lot of trouble because she belonged to a family of fishermen. And they were acquainted [...difficult to understand the audio... ] but they did not marry. It was such a strange story. Nowadays, when we see the film we are weeping all the time and joking at the same time. Des larmes et des rires [tears and laughs] – that, for me, is the film. (turns to Feld) What is your opinion, yourself?
Feld: I love this film, as you know. I love the presence of the voices. I love not just what they’re saying, but the energy and the exuberance of them. And the way the voices give us so much of a feeling of movement, of freedom, of the dignity and the agency, and also the relationship between you and your friends at that time. And all of the things that people were living through at that time, also all the sounds, the technology, the country, the city, the trains, the high life, every kind of possible music. I mean the film is also a fantastic catalogue, a fantastic soundscape of a particular time that I think is absolutely unique. So, you were talking about how there should be no borders. And, of course, in this film, there are not only no borders in terms of countries, but no borders in terms of fiction and ethnography, no borders in terms of the improvisation and control, no borders in terms of your voice and the voices of your friends. And it remains a very powerful film for me in that way.
Rouch: And you see the inspiration of Damouré and the others was fantastic. They did that on the first try. For example, when Damouré said that in the north of Togo the reason they paint their bridges red is because they like bridges so much, because they think they are so wonderful. (laughter) And it was like that all the time. The seashore scene is wonderful – when they go to the sea and bathe together. The story of coconuts [...difficult to understand the audio 53:45... ] It was a permanent joke. And I think there is one thing that is very important in this country and it is called a joking relationship. And I don’t know if it exists nowadays in our own society, but in our group we had this kind of joking relationship. I’m not sure.
Feld: It’s necessary. We should allow people some questions but before we do, you know, now we are going to see Petit à petit and then, Cocorico and Madame l’eau, and in these films the centerpiece of these films is your relationship with Damouré and Lam. Can you tell us the story of how you met Damouré and Lam and how it all started? I think it will help us think about all of these films.
Rouch: Well, you see, Damouré and Lam were old complices [partners in crime]  . In the beginning Damouré was working with me for the Travaux Publics in Niamey. He was the one who opened the doors to anthropology for me. I was working there as an engineer; it was the horrible time of travaux forcés [forced labor]. And my curiosity in anthropology began the day some thunder came down and killed ten of the workers on one of my chantiers [construction sites]. I asked the African office at Travaux Publics what we could do. They had asked some people to bury the bodies but the people said it shouldn’t be done, it’s impure. Damouré said, “Yes, this is my grandmother’s business.” And then I saw the wonderful old woman Kalia for the first time, who was one of the big priests among the Sorko of the Niger river. She said “Yes, that is my job.” He [Damouré] asked me for a calabash of milk and transportation to bring their group of people, which was a group of dancers who could dance the possession dance and an orchestra. So, for the first time in my life, I saw a possession dance. It was very, very dramatic. I spoke to Dongo for the first time, who was the thunder god – as engineer, it wasn’t on the programme [part of my training], you see (laughter) – and I asked, “Why did you kill these men? Who is guilty?” And Dongo said, “You.” He said, “Because this land belongs to me, and you have to ask for my authorization before you start working here.” And it was so strange. So we had to perform a sacrifice. And when we came back, I decided to go on. That was really my first ethnographic survey.
And only two weeks later, during a storm on the Niger River at Gamkalle a fisherman was killed. Damouré said that Kalia had asked him to go there and wanted me to go too because she didn’t know if the man had been killed by the god of thunder or the god of water. I didn’t understand a thing, but we went and there was a new ritual. I brought my Rolleiflex with me and took my first ethnographic photos. We used the lab at the hospital of Niamey to develop these photographs and I wrote my first report. I sent this report to Germaine Dieterlen and Griaule at the Musée de l’Homme and to Theodore Monod at IFAN.  I had an answer about 2 weeks later from Germaine Dieterlen and she said, “If the fisherman was killed by water, he will have the nose and the nombril coupés [belly button cut open].” I did not understand anything. She said that was the tradition in the Mopti area, which was 1000 miles away from Niamey. So, I went to see Kalia and asked her the question and her answer was simple, “You know all the answers, why do you ask these questions?” Then I started to discover that maybe anthropological research wasn’t real research. And that was the beginning. You see, for me, all these things are very important.
Feld: So Damouré was with you from the beginning?
Rouch: Yes, yes. Lam… well, I met Lam after two of my friends and I decided to canoe down the Niger River after the war. It was a stupid idea but anyway, we spent a couple months doing that. I was making some movies, and this was a way to do that, and we were all taking photographs. The last part of our trip was in Nigeria. Damouré was a civil servant in the Republic of Niger and didn’t have a passport, so it was impossible for him to go to Nigeria. But he told us about a good friend of his who was a Fulani shepherd who had been to Nigeria when he was young. Lam, at this time, was 20 years old. He told me the nice story of how he had been a Talibisé  – a student of the Koranic church. There was a Koranic priest who was going to Nigeria for the opening of a mosque. He brought a group of boys with him who would go from house to house and ask for food au nom de Dieu [in the name of God]. Well when they arrived, the Muslim priest died. The boys were told they had to go back to their home. So Lam, who was maybe 9 or 10 years old, went from Abeokuta to the Niger river by foot. When we were going with him on the Niger river, he told us some fantastic stories. The way he was attacked by a lion during his journey. He had to climb to the top of the tree with the lion below. And the lion was there going “grrrrr” and Lam was in the tree and didn’t know what to do. But early the next morning the lion wasn’t there – perhaps the lion went to visit his wife, nobody knows – and Lam started to run. (laughter) We don’t know if the story was true, but it was wonderful.
He was very important for the films we were doing. He was a Fulani and he could read. When he was going north, he saw a sign for Sokoto. For the Fulani, Sokoto is a place where some very important chiefs were. It was important for him to see if there was any souvenirs [mementos / records] there. Then, when he arrived in Sokoto, suddenly he saw some white cows. They were wonderful, he said. Absolutely white, but they had no horns. Then he followed the cows around and started to speak with them. He told me about how they could speak. And I asked, “What language?” and he said, “Cow language.” (laughter) And that was a wonderful story.
When we decided to make films, we thought it would be important to have these white cows close to the windmill we built [referring to Madame l'eau]. We discovered that in Niamey there were also these cows. A very important man who was a veterinarian knew the story behind these cows. They were coming from India. A district commissioner in India was sent to Sokoto and he asked to go there because he was interested in cows. And in Sokoto he came with his white cows from India. He asked the Fulani cow herders to have a look at his cows and told them that the milk was excellent. And they said, “No we cannot drink this milk. It is the milk of Satan. These cows have no horns.” So, you see, this introduction was really strange. And when we made the film we started with the idea to have these wonderful cows close to the moulin à vent [windmill]. And then we discovered that in Niamey there was a lady who was in love with these cows and had some there, so it was easy to start our story. We were on our way and unfortunately, Lam died. And then we didn’t know where we going. The idea is that in this film, the people are always in and out of reality and dreams, and all the films we’ve made follow the same road. So, we invented the idea that these cows were with their shepherd, Tallou, and that he could understand their language.
[End of DVD #2]
[Beginning of DVD #3]
ROUCH: [cont'd] And what does it mean? We couldn’t explain. And one day the cows crossed the bridge of Niamey to see Hell, and they saw Hell on the bridge and they were so afraid of the traffic that they laid down in the middle of the bridge. When Tallou arrived, the people were ready to throw these cows in the river. You have to understand, you’ll see, because we’re just entering the dream land. 
FELD: (laughing) Okay, well, before we get too far into dream land (laughter), maybe we should let the audience have some questions. We’re going to go increasingly into dreamland now, in the next three films. This [story] relates to Madame de l’eau which is the last of the films that begins with Petit à petit. So this relationship and the improvisation and the dreams and the travels with Damouré and Lam continue and will continue in the next films. Okay let’s let some people have some questions.
Rouch: Yes, okay. But I’ll finish the story before I forget. (laughter) So, when Tallou came, he posed a question which was very interesting. Some people here maybe know the Indian musicalMandala, fille des Indes.  The film was a fantastic success in Niger because the song of Mandala is close to the Bella language. So the Bella – Tallou – could translate Mandala’s songs. So we all learned something very interesting. So, in my story, there is man who starts to sing the songs from Mandala, fille des Indes and the cows follow him and go back. Then, at the end – I’m finishing – Tallou asked me for my typewriter because he wanted to send a letter to the President of the United States. The letter was, “Mr. President, at the independence of Niger the United States made a very small gift to the Republic of Niger and, you see, you built a two-way bridge that at the beginning was called the Pont Kennedy [Kennedy Bridge]. But it was a favorite place for those with no jobs or students who are angry to fight policemen and soldiers. People have been killed and now it is no longer called the Kennedy Bridge, but the “Pont des martyrs” [Martyr's Bridge]. Please send us some money so Niamey can build two new bridges, so Niamey can have 3 two-way bridges. Two going east/west and west/east and a third one for the cows, (laughter) the dreamers, the lovers, and people like that.” And the answer was, of course, okay we can start the work. You see that is how our imagination works.
Feld: (laughing) We have crossed so many borders (laughter), blurred so many boundaries. You must have some questions for Jean.
Audience member: Yeah, it is more of a comment, I just wanted to say that I think that ethno-fiction form is an incredible way to explore and reveal anthropological issues, as well as human experiences, and I wish more anthropologists would make the attempt to do so.
Rouch: Well, it’s because anthropologists have to follow the way of thinking of the population of the people they are studying and you see, the Songhay, they are real dreamers, they dream. It’s very important to dream. When you see a good friend in the morning and they look sad if you say “What happened?” They will tell you about their dreams. And they use their dreams all the time. And I think it is important that if anthropology is a study of the other, you have to enter into the way of thinking and the way of behaving of the other. But, (smiling) maybe this is a dream also.
Colleyn: I think this film was really revolutionary because it is the first time an anthropologist is showing movement. Most anthropologists were very static, studying local stories. So, my question is, where did the idea of showing movement and not just local people come from? And to show the public sphere for poor people in Africa? 
Rouch: Well, you see, from the very beginning, just after the war, with two of my friends who were from the same school – l’École des Ponts et Chaussées – we had a dream, to canoe down the Niger River from its springs to the sea. It’s not very normal for engineers des Ponts. (laughter) But it was due to the fact that during the war, one of my friends from school was in Guinea had trouble and was sacked [kicked out] by the governor Guinea, and myself, I was sacked [kicked out] by the Governor of Niger, and we met in Bamako. In Bamako we’d tell each other stories. We didn’t know where we were going, we knew it was to the war but that’s all; but maybe we would have to go to prison in Dakar, nobody knew. So when we were there we would go to the mountains of Koulouba, where the palace of the governor is and from there you could see all of the Niger. And we did a strange thing it was a kind of sermon [oath] – I compare it to when General Leclerc decided that the French would not be free until there was a French flag flying over Strasbourg – we did the same thing. We decided that we would not be free unless we came back and followed the river. The idea was to discover if there was a drop from the sources of the Niger river that arrives at the sea. It was stupid. But it was a sermon [oath] and just after the war we decided to do it. And we did it. It wasn’t very easy, but it was the beginning of all of this. We were helped by anthropologists like Leroi-Gourhan, Griaule and Leiris. So it was very interesting to do this survey with the help of all these people. At the same time, we also had help from some friends who were making films. We went to this place with the Groupe Lyotard, which was a group of young people in France who were ready to explore the world. There was a group of students in anthropology in Paris who wanted to study the Pygmies, and they decided to make a film and I met these people. And they said, “If you are going to the Niger river, you have to make a film.” They said, “You can go to the flea market in Paris and find a very good Bell and Howell camera.” (Rouch looks at Feld and says “okay, j’appuie sur l’accelerateur” – “okay, I’ll put the pedal to the metal” – laughter) They said, “You have to take this kind of stock.” And I didn’t know anything about filming but we bought the camera and the film. And the last miracle – two minutes – we crossed the Sahara in a Fokker  with a young French pilot. We were going to Brazzaville and they stopped in Niamey for our small group. The pilot was a very new French pilot. We had to stop in the middle of the Sahara to put some fuel in this Fokker. Fortunately, there was very good Algerian wine there. It was in the sun, it was very hot and it was very good. And fortunately the pilot drank it and he got in the plane and crashed it. Well, we were not killed – I am here. There was no real trouble but we had to stay there with everyone in our plane, including the cameraman of these people. And we stayed for 10 days in the middle of the Sahara with these people. And there, this very good filmmaker explained to me how to load the camera and gave me my first lessons in filmmaking. (laughter) Vous riez, mais ça c’est une histoire vraie! Absolument vraie! Bon, ça c’est la régle merveilleuse du hasard. 
Feld: It’s the adventure within the adventure and underneath the adventure.
Ginsburg: Well, I don’t think we can top that for an ending. So listen, don’t go to film school, go to the Sahara. (laughter
Colleyn: Be friends with Truffaut and Godard. (laughter)
Feld: Breakdown in a place where there happens to be a good filmmaker. (laughter)
Audience member: With wine!
Ginsburg: Since we need about an hour for everyone to get a break – Again, the Cantor Film Center for those of you who don’t know it is on 8th Street, and we will continue our adventure with Jean. It’s Petit à petit this evening so, thank you all for coming, we will see you later!
Chronicles of African Modernities: Day 2
Cantor Film Center (NYU) April 7, 2000
screening: Petit à petit
Ginsburg: If people can take their seats, we’d like to get going. I’d like to welcome back those who have been staying with the series of films we’ve been showing as part of the retrospective of Jean Rouch’s Chronicles of African Modernities, and welcome those of you who have just come here tonight. This will be our fourth film of the series. We are really delighted to be able to screen some of these films that have really not been available in the United States for some time and are not in distribution here, although they’re really wonderful films and we are trying hard to get them. Anyway, it’s my great pleasure right now to introduce Emilie de Brigard, who is probably one of the key people responsible for introducing the work of Jean Rouch to America in the 1970′s and, I believe also, programmed the first Margaret Mead Film Festival, when Margaret Mead was still alive. She also has run a company for film research, she’s a film consultant and has done a whole range of work. She’s a specialist also in African film and she’s going to say a few words of introduction for Petit à petit, and then we’ll get on to the screening and afterwards we’ll have a discussion up here. Thank you. Emilie?
de Brigard: Thank you Faye. And thank you all for coming this evening. This is the second in a series of films by Dalarou, and if you haven’t explained that before Rouch, you are going to have to explain Dalarou when you explain this film. We are going to see Petit à petit, which is a film made in 1969. It’s very difficult to know how to introduce the films of Jean Rouch. I am a person who taught these films with Jean Rouch for almost ten years in the 1980′s and when we were at Harvard together – in those wonderful halcyon days Jean – we had an administrator who listened to every crazy project that you had in mind. You remember the time that you wanted students to take airplane lessons so that they could film out of the airplane, because you liked the idea of motion, and you wanted them to do this? And Harvard summer school listened to this proposal very carefully but it was just too much, even for them. They said, “No, we can’t do that.” But Marshall Peele – remember him? – he was the administrator we used to work with and he said, “To know Jean is to love him. Not to know him is not to understand him.”
So, it’s very hard to know what to say. You don’t start to write your introduction to the film three weeks ahead of time, because that would be really insulting, to do anything like that for a Rouch film. On the other hand, you do have to say something that has some connection to the film. So we started this morning thinking about what we wanted to say, and, like everything with Rouch, between this morning and this evening we’ve changed everything we want to say. But one thing that Rouch insists on is that he wants you to know that this is a filmed dream. And that this film is one of his surrealist films and it has a surrealist song – Petit à petit l’ouiseau fait son bonnet. Now, Petit à petit l’ouiseau fait son nid, is a children’s proverb in France: little by the little the bird makes his nest. But this says Petit à petit l’ouiseau fait son bonnet – and a bonnet is something you wear on your head which has to do with being a chief. Rouch will explain all of this to you, I’m sure at great length later. (smiling) But this is a film that for Rouch had to do with the craziness of 1968 and you should see it in that context. In this series of film we are crossing borders into dream land because – and there is a very solid reason, this is not for personal and frivolous reasons – it is because Jean, as an anthropologist, is studying people to whom dreams are very important. That is to say the Songhay are people who analyze dreams and use dreams to understand what is happening.
So this is going to be a filmed dream; and it has a lot of humor in it so I hope you’ll laugh early and often. It’s sometimes difficult to sort out all the influences in this film. It’s kind of eclectic, to put it mildly. Jean says he was influenced by Flaherty and Vertov, but also, let’s not forget how much Jean likes American films and films from everywhere and how many years he has spent watching films at the Cinématéque française, which is a surrealist institution. Finally, the point that I think we should never forget, which I have been trying to make for years, but when you make it Jean, everyone will listen to you: cinema, all of cinema, all of world cinema is a history and an ethnography of the entire world in the last century – for a hundred years we have this incredible record not only of what is real, but also dreams. So I invite you into the world of Jean Rouch and Petit à petit and I hope you’ll enjoy it very much and afterward Paul Stoller and Manthia Diawara and Rouch will discuss the film and you will go home completely bewildered. Thank you very much.
- screening -
Ginsburg: On the left is Paul Stoller who is an anthropologist and now has the title “son of Rouch” and who has worked in the same region as Jean Rouch and has known him for many years. He has written a number of books Embodying Colonial Encounters, The Cinematic Griot, which is really an important recuperation of Rouch’s work for English speakers. On our far right here is Manthia Diawara who I’m sure many of you know is director of Africana Studies here at NYU and has written a number of books on African and African American cinema and most recently his intellectual memoir, In Search of Africa; also, several years ago, I don’t know if it was inspired byPetit à petit, but a kind of reverse ethnography, Rouch in Reverse. So we’re going to start the conversation. We need the mic, right? Okay, so we’ll have some discussion and because we got a late start, we’ll go on a bit later than we said on the schedule. Okay.
Stoller: It’s a pleasure to be here and a pleasure to see this film after several years. I must say that I laughed as hard this time as last time. Also, to see some of the images that Jean captured in the film is quite wonderful. There are two things that I’d like to say about the film very briefly. One is that, as an anthropologist, the film, in a very humorous way, calls into question obviously, what anthropologists do; what we’ve done in the past. It’s a kind of critique of our entire ethnographic history and a very striking one for me as a young anthropologist, when I first saw it. It made me rethink a lot of the canons that were imbued in me during my formation as an anthropologist. But I think more importantly, what this film, why it’s important to me is because it is a humorous film and it focuses on, for me at least, laughter. Laughter in Africa. So it is part of the laughter that emerges from the association of Rouch and his friends. I remember one time, in an office, not far from the Petit à petit hotel in Niamey, a colleague, a Nigerian scholar told me a joke and I laughed so hard that I lost my balance and fell down. And he said, “Well, you know, I think you’re making progress.” And then he said, “Most of the anthropologists that come here only laugh with their heads and to be able to write about us, in a good way, you have to learn to laugh with your body.” And I’d like Jean to talk about the role of humor and laughter and this sort of bon… well, I don’t know how to say it in French, but the role of laughter and humor in your films. If you would talk about that it would be great.
Rouch: (laughing) Well, you see, it is very simple. This film was made just after May ’68 and for us, as filmmakers and anthropologists in Paris, ’68 was a revolution which was for us the end of a period. It meant that we had to invent something new. And when this film was done, we knew that maybe the revolution was raté [botched/unsuccessful]. After things like that, something happened that happened very often in my life, like during the first part of the war, I tried to do something else. So, I thought it would be possible to invent something else. My first reaction was this one – to say we have to do something and to think and to try and find out what was possible. At the time I didn’t know what the key was, I learned that later on. The key is tofaire comme si – to do as if… to do as if. [to pretend] And this film is the beginning of my position of “to do as if” [to pretend]. During May ’68 there was a very wonderful experiment. Of course, we were with the students outside in Paris and so on. And towards the end we were following a big manifestation [protest] which started – I don’t know why – east of Paris and went to the Place de l’opéra. At one point it was difficult to find our way and we made a mistake and suddenly found ourselves in front of the hospital St. Louis. We were stopped there and – I don’t know why – everyone started to sing the song of the partisans [Resistance], which was very nice. And one of the manifestants [protestors] who was younger than I, asked if I had been in the war. He said, “I think you were singing this song during the war.” And I said, “No.” The song was written by two people in the Académie Française and was never sung by the partisans [Resistance]. So he asked me what we were singing during the war and (turns to Diawara) you know what I said? (Rouch starts to sing) “C’est nous les Africans en venant de loin / Nous venons du colonie pour libérer le terrain / Nous avons laisser tous là-bas, nos parents et nos amis / Car nous avons au ceour une invincible ardeur.”  And they sang that. (laughter) It was so strange. Then we went on and after awhile and we were in front of la bourse [the stock exchange] and one of the leaders stood up and said, “Comrades! Remember the contest between Marx and the others! During the Revolution they did not burn down this building. Well, we can burn it!” And it was very easy; there was a merchant of newspapers just in front so we took all the newspapers and we lit them and we burned it. We did that and we went on. It was very long. We arrived at Place de l’Opéra and one of the leaders said, “Well, we are very tired, let’s go get some coffee. Rendez-vous in one hour.” We went to a café. One hour later we went back and nobody was there. There was only 3 of us. But we were ready to go to take the Elysées with de Gaulle it would have been an action d’éclat [brilliant feat]. And that was the end. (laughter)
Stoller: Almost as difficult as building a hotel in Niamey.
Rouch: (laughing). Yes. And then we thought it might be possible to do a fiction film using all the jokes that we could make. And with my old friends from Niger, it’s so easy, you see. There was no text written, all the dialogues were improvised. We had absolutely no idea where we were going with the film, we knew only what action there would be. And so we made this strange film and, for us, when we saw it in Africa, my friends in Niamey were apparently angry against me. Seeing that my old Marxist friends said, “Well, well, well. We’ll see. Wait and see.” And then we discussed it very often and what is strange is that with Damouré and Lam we were always joking about the souvenirs [memories] of what we did while making this film. And it’s strange because it was not very difficult to make this film. We would travel somewhere and it was easy to start with the Metro and then go to the mountains. Everything was possible. And they said, “Well, Jean, let’s try to have a lot of fun.” And I said, “Thanks.” Because it is important to have fun. That is my conclusion. And I hope that some of the people here had fun.
Stoller: Let’s hope so. (laughter)
Rouch: Well, it’s not very serious, but, anyway… (laughter) Now my political solution is to make “as if” de faire comme si – which is very simple. Faire comme si we were making a film; faire comme si I was an anthropologist; faire comme s’il y n’avait pas de probléme; faire comme si je n’avais pas peur de la mort; c’est une régle trés, trés extraordinaire, mais je ne pense pas que ça puisse créer un mouvement politique trés important. Aprés tout, je n’en sais rien et je me demande si les vrais politiciens ne peuvent pas vraiment faire comme si.  I ask if these people aren’t doing “as if.” (laughter)
Stoller: (in reference to the fact that he is speaking in French) You doing “as if” right now. (laughter)
Diawara: It is indeed a funny film. When I was a young assistant professor, I was in Santa Barbara and watching the film tonight, it’s really uncanny, I just remembered something that I find now terrible, but that was very serious at that time. I was showing this film and I invited Safi Faye to come and introduce the film. As an assistant professor, of course, I was taking myself very seriously, very scholarly, you have to engage the film in situations like that. So, anyway, I called her all the way in Dakar, you know, and said, “I’m showing the film Petit à petit do you want to come and introduce it?” And her response was, “Oh, I was so young then and frivolous at the time and you want me to come and introduce that film? Are you crazy?” I didn’t think I was crazy then but now I do think that I was crazy. You know, there are some very good friends of mine in the film, Mustafa Alassane is the film, Safi Faye – they all have become pioneers of a sort in African cinema and they have made some very good films. Safi Faye is, of course, a very serious filmmaker now – an anthropologist, PhD – who makes films in a more ethnographic way than Jean would, for example. She takes herself very seriously. Laughs, perhaps, a little bit less than Jean. Mustafa is still very funny. I just saw him two months ago at Clermont Ferrant at the festival of short films. But it is funny. It has fantasy, you know, the Paris scenes they are fantastic indeed. It has surrealism. Those water scenes. It even makes fun of film, you know? The linearization is crazy! (turns to Jean) What were you doing!? You call this a film?! (laughing) And “boufferie,” I mean, the French language in the film is incredibly funny. They use all kinds of crazy language especially when they are in Paris. This is really funny. “What do you do?” You know, “I sell my ass!” or something. Things like that you know. And African/French, it really makes it very tasty. Yeah. It’s funny.
Stoller: The Songhay language in it makes it very gross – it’s very, very risqué language.
Rouch: In a glimpse you saw Françoise Foucault.
Diawara: I actually didn’t see Françoise, where were you in the film? (to Françoise Foucault)
Rouch: In the café.
Diawara: Ah, oui.
Rouch: C’est le diable, le diable behind the window [She's the devil, the devil behind the window]. (laughing) You see I like very much in the film because something happened. For example, the pupils with their professor and “Bonjour.” And the teacher says nothing. But then “bonjour monsieur, bonjour monsieur.” And the conclusion is that in France the teachers are the students and the students are the teachers. This is very good. And it was really strange seeing this, you see. For example, the first sailor. He is so extraordinary when he is asked to be measured and he is very serious. There was a very nice scene with the teeth. Well, this actress is a very good film critic at the Cahier du cinéma and they worked quite well. But, it was true that she had five very bad teeth. (laughter) And the conclusion with her was, “You see when Damouré asked me, I hurried up to go see my dentist.” (laughing) And everything was like that. In fact, it was very dangerous. You see, when Lam was driving through Paris in les beaus quartiers [the beautiful neighborhoods], my goodness. It’s not easy, it was an old car and Safi was in her car…
Diawara: Yes, and they were having a conversation, but, tell us about Mustafa and Safi, tell us about their film careers. How did they become filmmakers?
Rouch: Well, it was very simple. Safi Faye was a hostess during the first African meeting for independence in Dakar. She was there and she was an assistant to Alioune Diop…
Diawara: Who was the founder of Présence Africaine.
Rouch: Yes. And she asked me how to become a cinéaste [filmmaker]. She was – in fact her mother and father were teachers at l’École primaire [grade school] and she had not gone very far in her studies. And you see, Moustafa Alassane was in Dakar where he won an award for one of his cartoons, L’amour du Ganji – it was a very strange thing and they just started to speak together. And Mustafa said to her “The best place to be trained in cinema is not in Paris, it’s in Montreal, at the National Center of Cinema in Montreal” – where they were very good, in fact.
Then when we met, during another film, after Moi, un noir, we met with one of the filmmakers, Claude Jutra. He went to Paris and he saw Truffaut and Truffaut sent him to see Moi, un noir and he said “You have to go see to see Jean Rouch in Abidjan.” And we saw this man who was there and he was an extraordinary fellow and he said “I want to see the people with whom you made your film.” And I said I was driving back to Niamey and I asked him if he had a passport and he said yes. So I said “We can go by car, we can cross Ivory Coast, Ghana and so and go to Niamey.” So we did that, without any authorization, and we arrived in Niamey. And in Niamey at the time they were building a new museum at IFAN  and Mustafa Alassane was an artist, drawing. And suddenly Jutra said to me, “You have a cameraman there. You have a filmmaker there.” And I said, “Why?” And he said Mustafa had made his first animation drawings and he said “We have the best professor of animation in Montreal. I can ask the national office to welcome Mustafa, but he needs the authorization of his government.” And I don’t know how but we got a permit and Mustafa went to the National Film Board and he spent one year there. And he learned how to make animation there and the first animation he did won an award in Dakar. This is, you see, what the surrealists called “le hasard objectif.” [objective chance encounters]
Diawara: L’aventure au coin de la rue. [Adventure at end the street]
Rouch: L’aventure au coin de la rue. So Mustafa came to Paris and it was during the independence and he said “Jean I want to make a film about the President of the Republic of Small Frogs who goes to see the big President of the Republic of Big Frogs” – which was the visit of the President to de Gaulle. Then he came to Paris to make this film and, strangely, he had a hotel in Pigalle and there he had my camera. So he was drawing that and making the film image by image. He was doing his lab processing in the bathroom and it was stopped because the director of the hotel said it was forbidden to wash his things in the bathroom. (laughing) So the film was not finished but it was one of the best comedies about the President of the Republic of the petits crapauds [little frogs] who pays a visit to de Gaulle. And it’s fantastic that one of the best films on this subject was made with nothing.
Diawara: How about Safi Faye?
Rouch: Safi Faye, then… went on. When we made this film [Petit à petit ] and we thought she could be the actress. And in fact, we weren’t wrong. I like very much that she is speaking of her country, their ways and so on. She did it like that and, as usual, it was on the first shot. And then she thought she could do something. Then, it was very strange, one of our anthropologists who was working in South America – well, I can say his name Jean Monod – and they suddenly fell in love and he asked Safi to go amongst a million people in Amazonia. That is a strange journey. She was there among Indians in the river and she was a very strange person [she seemed strange to the Indians]. She was very afraid and the people were very afraid because she was swimming in the river and so on and so on. So then she came back and there was some problems with Jean Monod. She stayed in Paris and followed our training for filmmakers. She came to the cinématéque and she thought she could do something. And then she made a wonderful film in Dakar.
Diawara: Lettres Paysannes.
Rouch: Yes. Lettres Paysannes. Yes, that is the way, you see. I don’t know if it’s hazard [chance / luck / fate], but I think, maybe, I have a kind of strange vocation to open forbidden doors and some of them are there and they have their chance. It was so wonderful between all these people, we are very close and very good friends. Germaine Dieterlen loved Safi Faye. Germaine saw one of the last films she did and she was crying and she said, “Oh Jean, I am so happy. Safi did something so good.” She was full of charm and full of permanent youth – jeunesse permanante. And there are very few women who can have that. She’s always the same. (to Diawara) Do you agree with that?
Diawara: Yes, I like Safi Faye a lot.
Rouch: Yes, we like her. She is really likeable.
Diawara: That’s right. (laughing)
Rouch: Don’t marry her. (laughing)
Diawara: (laughing) It’s too late, you know… Je suis marié deja moi. [I'm already married.]
Rouch: Oh yes. I met your wife. Forget it. Forget it. (laughter)
Stoller: Getting back… beyond the question of marriage, could you tell us more about this strange corporation, Petit à petit ? Its history and its evolution
Rouch: Quelle est le… traduit-moi, je ne comprends pas.
Stoller: Quelle est l’histoire de la societé de Petit à petit ?
Rouch: La réalisation? Pierre Braunberger gave us an advance of money. It was a normal production. The people were paid. It was not very expensive. For me, the experiment in Paris was an absolutely fantastic story. That was really very good old friends discovering Paris. You see, it’s strange because now Lam is dead, and we speak about that often with Damouré. Damouré says it’s impossible to find another Lam. This guy was so strict, he looked so serious and he was really taking all the risks all the time. You see now it’s very difficult. I can tell the story because it’s exactly what happened. You see, Lam died and he gave us the story Vaches Merveilleuses, that we have now started.
Stoller: Magnificent Cows.
Rouch: Yes, Magnificent Cows. And it’s Lam’s story. And I went back to Niamey and, of course, we spoke and filmed what could happen after the death of Lam. And Damoure said, Lam was a good Muslim but we can ask our other gods if you can do a film with a man who is dead. So we went to the Niger river to ask Harakoy, the water spirit, if it’s possible to make a film with a fellow who had died. And they said yes. And we are making this film and we have the strange feeling that he should be there with us, and that is a very big problem – which is the problem of death. Henri Langlois said all the time “People who are making films never die because they are still alive on the screens.” And maybe that is the answer. If you are a filmmaker or an actor, or someone who works with film, you are immortal. (turns to Diawara) You are immortal. And you know that.
Diawara: I know that. Yes. (laughter)
Rouch: So, anyway, we can die. (laughter)
Diawara: Yes. Questions?…
Audience member: I’m about to start my film work and I’d like to ask Monsieur Rouch if you have any advice for me when I get started.
(Diawara translates the question and Rouch starts laughing really hard which makes everyone else laugh)
Rouch: I have to ask my agent. (points to Françoise Foucault)
Stoller: Learn how to swim.
Rouch: Okay. Conseils? [Advice?] The first shot is always the best. (Rouch shrugs his shoulders and looks around as if he’s at a loss and then everyone begins laughing)
Diawara: And don’t worry about money.
Audience member: I was very surprised in the film this afternoon [Jaguar] that the whole village or the whole town of Niamey seemed to be with you on the production and I just wondered how you managed to engage, or, it seems as if you engaged the entire population to be in your film.
Rouch: Well, the film Jaguar was a film in which we were discovering something new. There was a kind of script, but we didn’t know where we were going. And with my African friends we were discovering, let us say, what could be the future of Africa. And this discovery was at a time where the people didn’t know exactly where they were going. It wasn’t very easy, but we discovered together something else. We discovered together the difference between French colonization and British colonization. It was a strange thing. We discovered, for example, which was very strange for me and for us, we discovered the wonderful language of pidgin English. Le français cassé [broken French] is not like that. Why? (says something incomprehensible in pidgin English) You can’t say that in France. And that was really a film of discovering as they say in England, an English tradition. You see, I discovered your country  during the war, with the American army when we were in Berlin together, not with the British. But there that was so close and so far. But that is a very interesting question because it could be the subject of a new film.
Diawara: When you have a film like Petit à petit, the title actually has, I’m sure it’s universal… but in Africa, titles like Petit à petit are on cars and if you buy a new car which is a taxi, you write on it Petit à petit l’ouiseau fait son nid or something like that, so that you are actually going into an unknown. So when he says he discovered something, you are going into this unknown and little by little things are happening and you build your house and so on and so on. So the title itself is in a cultural context. Of course it’s not something you really know, you are moving towards something you don’t know; that’s why they would call it Petit à petit. But if you go to West Africa in a Francophone area, pay attention to what they call taxi-bus or in Dakar, Bamako, Abidjan, you will see those words written on many things. Also, stores have written on them Petit à petit, or something that expresses this notion that has to do with trusting your life in the hands of the unknown; moving almost negatively in front of you as opposed to rationally. You know, it goes with the logic of the film in a way but it is also very much within West African culture when you see that. It’s not just the title of the film, it’s widely used in the area.
Audience member: [inaudible]
Stoller: (translates for Rouch) L’expression pour le CFA  est Comment Faire Aujourd’hui. 
Diawara: CFA franc is the franc that is used in all the francophone Africa – Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, they share that. It’s their currency. So, he’s saying that, actually, one of the ways people relate to that is to say what can we do today with this kind of currency? You know, because it gets devalued all the time. Every time somebody sneezes in France, the franc goes down. (laughter)
Stoller: Or the World Bank.
Diawara: That’s right, or the World Bank or the IMF and so on and so on. Yeah.
Audience member: As far as the anthropology of Africa, no question about it, you have it. Politically I find that it didn’t solve the problem of what is the future? You see, when you come to drama we have three elements of life, we scream, we laugh and we cry. There we have the three elements but I don’t see what is the future of Africa? What is the result? I’m a 20th century man and I am reaching the 21st century and it troubles me. Beautifully done, no question about it. I congratulate you, I had a chance to know Margaret Mead also in my lifetime. Thank you.
Rouch: I think one of my answers would be tomorrow’s film, which is a strange film about the relationship with technology. It is a story about a Deux Chevaux which is a car and the idea in the beginning was a scientific one. In Africa when there are no roads and you are in a car, how can you cross a river? There was Lam, who was a very good driver, and Damouré too. And we made a film about this question. And Cocorico, Monsieur poulet! is in fact scientific research about how you can cross a river. And we had different solutions. Lam’s solution is to drive the car under the river itself, under the water and we did it. Okay, the result was that you have to clean the engine and so on. (laughter) But it works. The second is to take the car in separate parts that you can put on a canoe. That was the second solution. And the last one is the one we used during the war with Jeeps, that is to try to rendre flottant un véhicule qui doit normalement couler – to transform a car into a boat. But it was in fact very serious. Because we did it really. That was a very nice experiment. It was a strange thing in this film because it was really technical research but this technical research was done with a lot of imagination and wonderful dialogues. When we are speaking in the film, that was wonderful. And that’s the answer. And Madame l’eau will be the last. It is in the same way – is it possible to carry a windmill from Holland to Africa? And that was also a wonderful affair with wonderful people coming from Holland. But you see behind all that, I was thinking just now because of your question, there is always technical research and in fact, I think it was very good for me to be trained as an engineer to find some solutions. And… well… [End of DVD #3]
[beginning of DVD #4]
Ginsburg: I just want to remind everyone that the screening tomorrow is at 2 o’clock at the Casa Italiana on 24 West 12th Street and then the closing night will meet back in this auditorium at 7 o’clock and I guess it’s kind of a continuation of this series of films… so thank you very muchtout le monde. (applause)
Chronicles of African Modernities: Day 3
Casa Italiana (NYU) April 8, 2000
screening: Cocorico, Monsieur poulet!
Ginsburg: Okay, this is a long film and I know people also want to get a bite to eat before this evening. So the screening today is Cocorico, Monsieur poulet!. It was completed in 1974 and it’s really continuing in our series starting from yesterday afternoon with Jaguar and then Petit à petitand now Cocorico and tonight with Madame l’eau – a series of films which some people have called ethnofiction, with this group that Jean has formed with his friends Delarou. And, as I think he explained yesterday, one of the central characters of this film is a Deux Chevaux [2 CV], a little car. (laughter) And it’s another one of these films that they improvised as they went along. It was premiered in the US in 1977 at the first Margaret Mead Film Festival. And although it opened with no publicity in Paris, it quickly became a very popular film, in fact. And it’s got legs, as they say. We weren’t able to get a print with either an English voice-over or translations so Jean and Paul Stoller are going to help us. We are going to keep the sound a bit down and they will provide English translation along the way. So I hope for the French speakers you can still hear the French. It was the best way to resolve the problem for those who don’t. And I think we have the projection problem solved from yesterday. Okay messieurs.
- screening -
Rouch: (to Stoller) Are you ready man?
Stoller: No, I don’t know how to work these things. (fiddling with mic)
Rouch: You’re having trouble with Monsieur poulet!? (laughing)
Stoller: Well, I was very happy to hear people laughing at this wonderful and crazy film. It’s a crazy film. Two things about the film are of great interest to me. One is the relationship of, the juxtaposition of magic and reality in the world of possibility. And, in that part of the world, in West Africa among the Songhay, magic is a part of everyday life in a sense. It’s never very far from… it’s used to solve problems basically, as it is in this film. The other thing I want to say very briefly is that you could say there is the influence of surrealism in this film – the bizarre juxtaposition of dreams, the interpenetration of magic and everyday life. And I was wondering, Jean, if you could speak a little about the influence of the surrealists on you and your filmmaking and how, from a young age. I know you told me that in the 1930′s you used to go to Boulevard Montparnasse to see surrealist exhibitions and that it was a very important part of your orientation to the world. So, if you could talk a little about surrealism and this film, that would be wonderful.
Rouch: Well, it was one of the most fantastic adventures I ever had while making films because there was no script. There was the idea. In the beginning it was an idea to make a documentary about Lam going to the bush, buying chickens and going back. That was the idea at the beginning. And suddenly, on the bridge Damouré went across and I knew at this time… you see, Damouré had a contest with Lam, uh, with Tallou and he said to him (gestures by putting his index finger in front of his mouth and wiggling it), which means “the clitoris of your mother.” (laughter) So I knew that we were in front of a conte de fé [fairytale]. We had to follow. It was so easy. So we went with the car. There was all the problems in the car with the rétroviseur [rear-view mirror] and so on. And they were inventing everything. But we didn’t know what the story would be exactly. The story would be about the crossing of the bridge and crossing the river with a car like the 2 CV. Well, that was the idea. But I discovered along the way that it was maybe important to enter directly into the conte de fé [fairytale]. And on Sunday I proposed to enter with the diable de la bousse, with the spirit of the bush. And we knew a very strange girl in Niamey who was working at the airport; she was from Upper Volta and she belonged to a group close to the Gurmantche and in these groups the ladies are hunting just like the men. She was very famous in Niamey because she had killed an elephant. Then we had trouble because she was working at the airport and she gave her agreement but she could only work with us on Saturday and Sunday. Which means all the scenes she is in were made at the end of the week. (laughs) But, anyway, it wasn’t very difficult. And you see, we went on. Then we found something very strange. After a meeting, Damouré fell on the ground with a fever. He said, “I’m having an attack of malaria. It’s because I was very tired this morning. I have to go back to take some medicine. I think we’ll make the next sequence next week.” Well, that was a sign that something was wrong, that we were fighting against the gods. Then Damouré – the following Sunday – was alright and we went on to film the sequence of when he is alone and Tallou… that wonderful sequence –
Stoller: With the tire on his head…
Rouch: Yes. Well, it was difficult for me, I was on the camera and the camera was very unsteady because when I was filming suddenly (gestures as if he is filming with a camera and begins laughing to illustrate how the camera would shake) I was laughing so much that.. (laughter) but anyway. Then we told this very strange story and apparently it worked. Then we went on with the subject, and we invented new things all the time and there was the story of crossing the river for the second time. And in fact when we did it the first time the water was very low and it was difficult to roam in this way. Then we decided to cross with the car underwater. It was my influence, because during the war when we were in a Jeep and there was no bridge we had a system, but of course there were not poulets [chickens], there was nothing like that and we could do it easily. We decided to use the system to cross the river. Then we were directly again in such a wonderful dream where they were in this kind of middle; in the middle of the water they began to swim and so on. When they went out there was the problem of when you are doing this kind of thing, of course, you have some water that gets inside the engine and normally it’s necessary to dismount everything to clean it. But the car was an old car and Lam took out the plaques [electric plates] and said, “if we turn the engine the water will get out” – which was true. So we left the car in the sun. It was dry. It was very hot. Then we put some oil in there and the 2 CV was ready for a new adventure.
We did the whole film this way. It was very strange because suddenly it was the rainy season with the wonderful landscape, and we had this part which I like very much which is about the rhinoceros, who was in fact in a garden in Niamey. And all this part was made in this garden. We did it very well – with the wonderful sentence of Tallou, “Il y a la bouffe qui m’empeche de chier,”qui est une belle phrase.  So we were there in this very amusing thing and everything was possible.
Stoller: Can I translate that? The buffalo is preventing me from shitting. (laughter)
Rouch: Yes. Yes. And the trouble was that the 2 CV was absolutely out. The only solution would have been to take another engine and we didn’t have the money to do that. We didn’t know what to do. But then in the flea market we found another 2 CV which was younger than this one. So we bought our second 2 CV which was absolutely alright. It was wonderful – themultiplication des 2 CV [multiplying of the 2 CV]; we were like the Christ with the multiplications du pain [multiplying of the loaves]. (laughter)
Stoller: Oh, the loaves and fishes? Right. Right.
Rouch: We decided to have the girl play the role of the devil of the red mountain. And suddenly another fantastic thing happened. She was a Gurmantche from this area and she could do the sacrifices herself. So she cut the head of the chicken and with her hand she sent its head between her knees, which is really fantastic. Then when I showed the film to the Gurmantche after they said, “This girl is full of power, to have this kind of proof of her association with the gods and devils and so on. Be careful with her.” But we finished the film. My anthropologist friend in Niamey thought it was a trick, that it was not real at all. He thought you saw that in the sequence and tak! tok! (illustrates as if the scene had been cut a certain way). So I went to Paris and edited for a few weeks and the film was selected for the Cannes Film Festival. Then I did a rapid mixing and we went to the Cannes Film Festival. Damouré and Lam came and joined us there. When the producer, who was a very strange guy, decided to distribute the film he asked the National Center of Cinematography for a subvention [subsidy] in order to blow the film up into 35mm. Well everything was okay but this man was a crook. (laughter) There are many crooks everywhere and in the film business there were a lot. So he left with the money to buy another film and it was a flop. I sent a cable to my friends and they asked for the address of the guy in Paris, they were ready to go and kill him. (laughter) Then we found another producer and we finished the film. As usual we got some droits d’auteur [royalties] and Damouré, Lam and Tallou got some money, but we were hoping for millions of dollars and we had maybe a hundred pounds. But it was a very interesting moment because it showed our group that we could do films in this inspiration. It was at this time that we created our own film society which is called Dalarouta – Da, Damouré; La, Lam; Rou, Rouch; Ta, Tallou. And Dalarouta means “One dollar – no more.” Da-la-rou – ta – finished. (emphasizes the “ta”/ laughter)
Stoller: You have said that, for you, one film gives birth to another and that films, for you, are like dreams in a sense, that they sort of open up the imaginary, open up the imagination. This film has many sequences where the real and the surreal seem to fuse together. There are dream sequences, it’s full of imagination, the imaginary is opened up. Can you speak a little about films as dreams and what that means for you?
Rouch: Well, Delarouta is very honest. And we saw it, that the “devil” had to be a part of Delarouta We learned that she left Niger and went back to her own country, she went south of the coast and disappeared there. We tried, we sent messages everywhere for a year. And there was no answer. Where is she? And now, you see, our conclusion is that she was a real devil; she did not exist.
Stoller: Who happened to appear in the film?
Rouch: Yes. When we showed the film in Niamey with my friends, we learned a bit more about this girl, who was a kind of priest but with a lot of trouble, and who left. We sent messages with her name saying “We have a thousand dollars for you. Where can we send it?” But there was no answer. Nowadays, it’s a big mystery. When we are out on the road with Damouré and when Lam was here, we would talk about this time and this girl and say, “Well, we’ve made a lot of films but that one was really strange.” That’s the story, you see. For me it was a magic garden and I think we can sometimes go to this place – Alice au pays du merveille. And maybe this girl was Alice, you see.
Stoller: Alice in Wonderland.
Stoller: Why don’t we open this up? Would anybody like to ask a question? Sir?
Audience member: We are of the same generation, I want to ask you if you had the chance to see in your youth Blood of the Poet by Jean Cocteau, that is my first question. And the second is what is the future of technology in that part of the world?
(Stoller translates first question)
Rouch: Oui. Of course! Of course I saw it. You see when I was young I was among the surrealists and we believed in this kind of thing. For us the mystery was behind the door and that, you see, is the message of Breton, of Aragon and all these people who were our favorites authors. We were really close to Breton’s attitude in relation to fairy tales when he said, “fairy tales are a test, you have to say they are true.” And I met him, he liked the film I made in Paris very much and he said, “You see if you continue to make films like that you are opening the mysterious and secret gates of the wonderful and the wondrous places.” And he said, “But be careful, it’s an allée, no return [one way ticket].” Okay. No return? I’m there. (laughter)
(Stoller translates second question)
Rouch: Well that is a very nice question and my answer is simple. At the time of the independence of Niger there were 2 doctors from Niger in France, 3.  There was one in philosophy, the second in mathematics and the third in physics. And the mathematician and physicist were the best in Paris, they were better than the French. And I said to the people of the government, whom I knew, it may be necessary to change education and open, what we call in France, a class for mathématiques spéciales.  And they said no, there is something more important, there is agriculture and so on. And these people were more brilliant than myself, they knew mathematics in a fantastic way. They were the best mathematicians in the world. I’ll give you an example, later on, [Duly Ayou?], who is an anthropologist prepared his PhD about slave conditions in the republic of Greece. And this guy is a wonderful guy. He is from a slave group and he can speak Greek better than everybody. It will be done in Toulouse and he will be there, speaking in old Greek about the situation. He knows everything about the history of Greece. You see, then, they are there. You see, that is a big problem. The answer of the President of the Republic in Niamey when I spoke about the idea of mathématiques spéciales was, “My Assistant” – who were, let us say, some French bastards – “said No, what is important for you is development.” So everything went into development and it started there. And I agree with you that it is a very important question.
Stoller: I should add, one of the most fascinating characters I met during my time in Niger was a guy named [Salah Tokoi?] who was a doctorate from the Sorbonne who was very active in politics. Because of his political involvement and his brilliance he was a threat to the government. So, rather than employ him at a university or lycée [high school], he was named inspector of primary schools in a town 2,000 miles away from Niamey. The problem that he had, the difficulty that he had was that he was so alienated that he became an alcoholic and eventually he drank himself to death. It was… He was an incredibly brilliant man. It can be a problem sometimes. Other questions?…
Audience member: I was curious about the space where they cross the river. Are they crossing back and forth in the same spot or are they moving along? How long did the crossing take?
Rouch: No. No, not at all. The first time they cross was 100 kilometers in the north of Niamey and the second was in the town of Niamey itself, close to the bridge. The reason why they are joking [inaudible]. But we crossed at the North boundary of Niamey. We were in town. And everybody saw that which means that with Damouré, Lam and Tallou (makes a muscle flexing gesture).
Stoller: I bet that attracted big crowds.
Rouch: Yes. Yes. (laughing)
Audience member: What is the story behind all the different pairs of glasses? There are at least five or six pairs?
(she translates for Rouch)
Rouch: Well, it’s because we were young. (laughter) We liked to play. I discovered the essuie-glace lunettes [windshield wiper glasses] just before going to Niamey. There was no, let us say, no revolutionary or commercial intention. It was done like what you could call comment dit-on un acte gratuit?
Stoller: A free act.
Rouch: Yes, it cost only 2 pounds.
Audience member: (continues her question in French insisting on how many kinds of glasses there are and how often they appear)
Rouch: Well, that is, let us say, the mise-en-scene. The mise-en-scene is totally naive. We were really like…
Stoller: It was not part of the script.
Rouch: Yes. It was like in fairy tales. Do you like fairy tales? I liked them very much when I was young. (laughs) Which, I would say was yesterday… when I was young.
Audience member: I would like to know which camera you used?
Rouch: Ah, that was my old Bell and Howell camera. And that was the old wonderful Kodachrome. And we started the editing in Niamey, to check the film and see if anything was missing. But it was very easy to do. Even the editing, it was evident [obvious]. We followed the story and… Well it’s simple because there was no problem of raccords [continuity], we did it naturally. And of course there are some mistakes but I think these mistakes are the guarantee of authenticity. (laughter)
Ginsburg: Jean, there is a lot of information about how this film circulated in Europe and the United States, but I was curious about what the response was when you brought it back to Africa and has it had much circulation there?
Rouch: Well the film was shown in an old cinema, I don’t remember the name, the African cinema. In Niamey there was a print which was playing and playing and playing. The people were laughing and their reaction was that – that was the beginning of Dalarouta – Dalarou nous a, une fois de plus, coullionné – c’est-a-dire nous a fait croire des choses qui ne sont pas vrais.  (laughter)
Stoller: I don’t know if I can translate that.
Rouch: If you like, they knew that le cinéma est un mensonge permanante et que c’est un tellement gros mensonge qu’on est forcé d’y croire. 
(Stoller translates for audience)
Audience member: I just want to follow up on the distribution question. Was the film shown in French cultural centers or did it manage to get shown in cinemas?
Rouch: No, the film was shown in the normal cinema in town. It won an award at Cannes and I remember that my friends, African filmmakers who were in Cannes, said, “Jean tu exagéres.”  But they said that with a poignée de main [handshake], “tu exagéres, mais c’est trés bien.”  (laughter)
Audience member: What pleases you the most when you watch this film now, almost 30 years later?
Rouch: Well, I like all of the film, as I said, but when there is the sacrifice, it’s really always a surprise and I am wondering if there is a trick somewhere and there isn’t. It happened like that. And, of course, how can you explain that? The chicken was a normal chicken. There was a sacrifice and Tak! (makes a cutting gesture) and she sent it just in the knees of the person who killed him. And when the people of this small village saw that they said she was, herself, a devil – which is not true, but she disappeared.
Stoller: Right. When there are sacrifices like that very often people watch the movements in the death throws of the chicken, because it indicates, it has a lot of meaning. And in this case, it meant that this woman had tremendous power because the head came between her knees which is a very rare thing.
Rouch: One of my friends who is an anthropologist who is a specialist of the Gurmantche saw this film, I don’t know, 20 times and said, no it’s absolutely right. You see I was shooting with one camera, with ten minutes in my magazine and I could follow it. Pour une fois la camera était au point. Tout était OK. Il marchait trés bien. Il n’y avait pas de probléme. 
(Stoller translates for audience)
Rouch: It could even be used, from my point of view,  in a conference about sacrifice to show as an example, without any explanation.
Audience member: The other day somebody said that there was a movie called Black and Whitethat had just been released and that Jean Rouch should ask for a fee. I just want to tell Jean Rouch that there is also a South African film, a comedy, that was recently released that was called Chicken Business and I think he should ask for a fee also, and I think we should do some research on that and maybe we could get a lot of money and we could make a really great film! (laughter)
Rouch: That is a nice idea. You ask me about a film in South Africa. There was a wonderful film I saw from South Africa called Magic Garden. Did you see this film? Magic Garden is a film about a very poor man who sees the place where the priest puts the money. Then he takes the money and was attacked by some gangsters who took the money. [inaudible] at the same time, he had put the money on the top of the tree. So he was there with his fiancée and his fiancée says, “No, you are too poor. My mother said you have to get some money.” And the man says, “I have no money!” and he pushes the trunk and the money falls down. It was magic and everything happens this way. It was a wonderful film shot, let us say, 30 years ago, in black and white, 35mm. I think in Indian films who have the same thing, in the films of Egypt you have the same thing and in the African films you have the same stories. Let us say I was a little pionnier[pioneer]. I opened the gates, but I have no droits d’auteur, no author’s rights.
Stoller: Yes, he might have been a pioneer but he doesn’t have the right to these royalties. It is a nice idea though.
Rouch: Yes. You see all these people who were filming reality in fact were, in fact, filming something more. Maybe what we can call the imaginaire de la verité [imaginary truth]. Of course, it’s in the beginning of Nanook. When you see Nanook getting out of the canoe with his family and there is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 boys with the lady and so on. Well, that’s fantastic. I used this system in another film I made for a publicity [advertisement] for the 2 CV… no for the Volkswagon! Damouré came home in his Volkswagon and opened the door and from the door there were one hundred children who came out – of course they were entering through the other door. (laughter) And that was an exact copy of Nanook. And when the people see the film they are delirious with joy and I say that it was the direct inspiration of Nanook on me.
Stoller: Was that a Delarouta production?
Rouch: Yes, mais no droits d’auteur [but no royalties].
Audience member: I was wondering if you could say a little more about your relationship between filming and editing. You talk very much about how your film emerges through your collaboration during the shooting. I wonder if you could just say what happens during the editing?
Rouch: Well, I did this film as if it was a documentary. I did a pre-montage at the Musée de l’Homme following the story. And then I went with the first print and showed it to Damouré, Lam and the others and we decided to make some changes. We recorded some songs about “Cock, cock, cock” like that. (laughter) It was also an allée-retour [a two-way or roundtrip ticket]. I did the montage and showed it to my co-authors and then we finished the montage in the big city, in Paris. Françoise, quelle est, sur le générique le monteur qui a travaillé dessus? 
Francoise Foucault: Ce n’est pas Philippe?
Rouch: Philippe [Usier?]? Yes. You see, it’s Philippe [Usier?], one of the editors of films at the Musée de l’Homme. He was a very good editor and you see, at the end of the film, when it had such success, the film was blown up in 35mm to be screened in the cinema. And maybe we had to make some modifications, I don’t remember. But it was to add some sound somewhere, with noise or something like that. But the film was made. But what you don’t know is that when we started we really did not know where we were going, there was really no story. The only story was to get some chickens and come back, that’s all. (laughter) It would be a film of 10 seconds!
Stoller: Chicken Business. Yes?
Audience member: What I like very much in the film is that you never know where you are going, you don’t know if they are really real, that is why the film is so precious because is it is so real and surrealist. No question though.
Rouch: Oui? [Yes?]
Stoller: C’était un commentaire trés positif. [That was a very positive commentary]
Rouch: Quelle est la reponse? [What is the answer?]
Stoller: Merci. (laughter)
Ginsburg: Thank you very much Jean. He’s been working hard all week so we’re going to have a break and at 7 o’clock we’re going to be screening Madame l’eau over in Cantor Film Center. We look forward to seeing you then, it will be the conclusion of our retrospective.
Chronicles of African Modernities: Day 3
Cantor Film Center (NYU) April 8, 2000
screening: Madame l’eau
Ginsburg: I’d like to thank everyone for coming. This is the last screening of our retrospective of Jean Rouch’s films on what we have been calling “Chronicles of African Modernities.” It’s his last feature film, it’s called Madame l’eau and it was completed in 1992. I think its English version first circulated in the US in 1994. Before that, I want to thank once again our many sponsors; this has been a very social event to organize. In addition to NYU’s Center for Media, Culture and History, which has coordinated the event, we want to thank the International Visitors Program and the Office of the Vice President; Dean Stimpson and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; Dean Campbell and the Tisch School of the Arts; the departments of Anthropology and Cinema Studies; the Institute of African American Affairs and Africana Studies; the Institute of French Studies; La maison francaise; the Center for European Studies; the Directors Series of the Maurice Kanbar Department of Film and Television; and Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York; and especially Veronique Godard, who has been instrumental in getting all the prints here. And also the human labor has been really extraordinary and probably too numerous for me to actually name everyone, but I particularly want tonight to thank all the students who have been incredible in helping out in every dimension of this program. Particularly we are using the talents of the students in the Center for Media, Culture and History who are video recording and audio recording all of the events so that we’ll have a record of the invaluable discussions that have accompanied all the films screenings. Okay, so Madame l’eau is, I have always looked at it as the end of a quartet of films that Rouch made with his friends in Africa, Damouré Zika, and well, the Dalarou company that we were discussing earlier today. And I actually think of it as a film of what the world would be like if Jean Rouch was the president of the World Bank (laughter), and we can discuss that idea later.
- screening -
Ginsburg: So, let me invite Paul Stoller and Jean Rouch up. We are going to be, there was a little mix up with the film, I think there are two versions and we got the longer version, which is great for us, but we don’t have a lot of time in this theater so we are going to keep the commentary short, unfortunately. But maybe people can join us in a café afterwards.
Stoller: I would like to say just two short things about the film that strike me. One is the scene in Holland where Philo and Lam, Tallou and Damouré are trading the histories of their traditions. Very often when anthropologists go into the field they take information from people. They gather life histories, they take kinship, but they give… they really don’t reveal their own histories. One of the most beautiful moments of my own fieldwork was after a seven year quest, finally getting an interview with Kassey of Wanzerbe, a very knowledgeable woman sorcerer. And I was so moved by the fact that she gave her history to me and told me about the tradition of the sohanci sorcerers that I began to tell her the history of my family. And she thanked me and she wanted to know all of the details. She said, “This is the first time in all the interviews that I have had with people that the interviewer gave back something to me, from his heart.” And that was one of the most beautiful moments of my fieldwork and this brings that to mind in that sequence.
And very briefly, another thing I want to talk about is the sequence of Tallou leaving Holland, basically flying to Niger “on the wings of the wind” as the Dogon say. That is, to me at least, a recreation – among the Songhay sorcerers called the sohanci that Jean knows very well from his fieldwork, they are reputed to have the capacity to fly great distances in short periods of time – for me, that was kind of a recreation of the flight of the sohanci. And one more thing is that the texts that Jean was mixing were from Songhay ritual incantations when people call the spirits. You know, it’s like talking about “Mr. Wind” – all of those texts come directly from the Songhay incantations which are extraordinarily poetic. And that is what I wanted to say about the film. It was really very moving for me to see those images and the laughter and the fact that films create a possibility where dreams come true.
Rouch: Thank you. (laughter) Really, that is exactly what happened. It was very simple to shoot the film. It was a long story. We didn’t know how it would end, of course. We spent about 5 or 6 months on it. The narration and actions conform to the systéme de pensées de Songhay [the Songhay system of thought]. We liked it very much because that is how the Songhay went to war, that is how they made what they want and when the film was shown in Niamey, all the people there were saying the big sayings  again with the people in the film. Philo was there and he was so proud and so happy. And it’s strange because that was the beginning of a long friendship between Holland and… even now Tallou and Damouré are asking “When are we going back to Amsterdam to see the lovely Weineke?” (laughter) And the real story is Weineke is married. But I had a lot of trouble with her because she was just a film assistant and the Dutch producer discovered that we had broken the law because she was playing a role and all the trade unions were against that. And it was very difficult to explain to the Dutch trade unions that the trade union rules in Africa are not the same. When you are doing a [Pakaré?] you can say everything and this is what we call in French jeux d’amour [love games], where she is the key for the relationship in the film between the girls and boys, the males and females, the mother and the father and so on. Well, I saw Weineke not too long ago and she said, “When can I come back to see our moulin [windmill]?”
We were sad at one point because we thought this would be the beginning of this kind of very simple exploitation [business / development]. But it was a long fight against the entire system of operation because there was no money. There were some nails and some tissu [fabric / material] and so on, but that’s all. And the Nigerians could have done that very well, but the government thought and the foreign conseiller [advisor] said that they were violently against the story. Because it was finished; there was no money, the people could do everything themselves and of course there would be some changes. There was only the two windmills that stayed. Some people asked if it would be possible to go to Ayrou and along the Niger to put up the windmills. But there were some people who were using arroseuses méchaniques [mechanical sprinklers] which meant it was finishing…
Stoller: You know what is interesting to me is that you began your career as a civil engineer and here is this film, many, many years after you were first in Niger in 1942, and you have come back to the problem of development and you have come back in this film to technical kinds of things.
Rouch: Yes. Well, with my friends in Niger we were ready to go on. All the films I made with Damouré, Tallou and Lam – Lam unfortunately died two years later – we are inventing the story and we want to shoot the film in a very simple way. You see, I had trained some cameramen to do that. And my general rule in filmmaking is the first take is always the best. Okay. No problem. You have to do it. Then we were ready to make another film, this new film is called White Cows and the film is coming from an idea that Lam gave to us just before his death. In this film, with the windmill all the banks of the Niger have changed. When we would go there in the evening we decided the new landscape would be called La Hollande. And they said, “Yes, but in Holland there were a lot of cows. We need cows.” (laughter) So we remembered the white cows that exist and we were ready to go with these white cows. It’s a strange story so I’ll tell it quickly.
A British officer in India discovered white cows without horns. And these cows were wonderful. Later on he asked to go in northern Nigeria where there was a group of Fulani who had cows. He thought it would be a good idea to bring these white cows there. He went with the cows but the Fulani discovered these cows had no horns, so they couldn’t drink the milk because they were cows of the devil. So the cows are still there and they are extraordinary – we discovered 10 of them. Our new story will be to follow the cows there. And Tallou, who you saw in the film, is a very good linguist, he can speak every language – even if he doesn’t understand what he is saying – and he started to speak cow. (laughter) And he speaks with them very well. And the cows that were there in Holland were asking, “What is there behind the river?” And Tallou answered that it was “Hell” but he did not have enough vocabulary in cow language to explain what “Hell” is. (laughter)
Stoller: He might have enough vocabulary in donkey language.
Rouch: So the cows decided to see it by themselves and then they went across the bridge to see what hell was. They discovered the bridge itself and they started to stop (makes a gesture to indicate the cows were lying down on the bridge) and they were stopping because they were so afraid. When Tallou discovered them he said suddenly he had an idea. He said, “Do you remember the Indian musical Mandala, filles des Indes?” which was a tremendous success in Niger because Mandala sings in a language that is very close to the Bella language. And then Tallou asked, “Can somebody sing Mandala’s song?” And an old man started to sing Mandala’s song and the cows got up and followed this guy and they went back. The end is more difficult. Damouré decided immediately that he would send a letter to the President of the United States.
Stoller: Bill Clinton?
Rouch: Yes. And the letter said, “Mr. President at the time of the independence of our country the United States gave us a very small gift, a two-way bridge. The name of this bridge in the beginning was the Kennedy Bridge, of course. But it’s a place where jobless people and students are fighting, so now the name of this bridge is the bridge of victimes [victims]…
Stoller: Victim’s Bridge.
Rouch: … Victim’s Bridge. So, we ask you to give us the money to make two more bridges there. There will be one two-way bridge that goes west to east the second east to west for the lorries  and the third which would be there for the camels, the cows and the lovers.” And our idea was that the President would send us a telegram and the money saying, “You can start the work.” That was our dream to make the next the film.
Stoller: Well, I think that Faye’s suggestion that you be nominated as the President of the World Bank is a good one. We need more bridges like that. (laughter)
Ginsbug: Very unfortunately we have to clear the theater because there is another event coming which we just found out about. I am very sorry. But I wanted to tell you that there is also a screening tomorrow at the Museum of Modern Art at 2 o’clock of Chronicle of a Summer. So we don’t have to feel so sad about closing this evening tonight. Please join me in thanking Jean and Paul for a wonderful several days of… (applause)
(Rouch calls Ginsburg over to her chair and kisses both her cheeks)
Rouch: I must say that during these past days I was maybe in paradise. I discovered that I am still alive.
Ginsburg: (very moved) Well, it’s just New York.
Rouch: What you did here for me, it’s just too much. It’s too much because all these people were so nice. You were so nice. There was smiling people. And I saw that nobody fell asleep during the screenings, which is very rare. In France, at the end, you hear (makes snoring sound). The questions and the discussion were fantastic. And it was a chance for me to see all my old friends from the old times and to really feel here, at home. Thanks a lot to you all.
(Ginsburg and Rouch hug and kiss each other’s cheeks. Then Rouch turns to Stoller and gives him an elaborate handshake. The audience is clapping and laughing.)
 Happily enough some of these titles are now more readily available. In fact, a boxed set of some of Rouch’s most important ethnographic films now exists for purchase through Editions Montparnasse in France. The set includes the films Moi, un noir, La pyramide humaine, Jaguar andPetit à petit, as well as many other titles.
 He has discussed these influences at much greater length in Ciné-Ethnography – edited and translated by Steven Feld. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press; 2003.
 Partie Democratique de la C™te d’Ivoire – Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast
 Rassemblement Democratique Africain – African Democratic Rally
 framework laws put in place to achieve certain economic objectives
 Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire – Fundamental Institute of Black Africa
 institute of French research
 Le Prix Delluc in 1959
 “The young people who come to work in Abidjan often form spontaneous associations for mutual help and entertainment which are called “Goumbés” in Ivory Coast, after the name of a square drum that serves as the rhythmic base to their dance.” (quote from Ciné-Ethnography by Jean Rouch, edited and translated by Steven Feld. University of Minnesota Press, 2003, p. 360)
 Why did you choose the Italian? Why this choice, because he could have been French or …?
 I think I will ask for payment. Is it on Kodak?
 Convention People’s Party: The CPP was founded in 1950 by Kwame Nkrumah as a result of the Ghanaian independence movement.
 The word griot is used in West Africa to describe someone whose role in society is like that of a bard; a griot is a storyteller who passes on histories and traditions from one generation to the next orally.
 Complice means “accomplice” in English but the French compound vieux complices (literally “old accomplices”) means “partners in crime” in English.
 Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire – Fundamental Institute of Black Africa
 Ali ibn Abi Talib was an early Islamic leader and one of the first authorities on the Islamic religion. He was a respected warrior, writer and religious authority among Muslims. I am assuming that the word Talibisé has something to do with being a follower of his teachings.
 Although the video cuts out on this story, Rouch tells it again during the discussion for the closing night film, Madame l’eau. For any clarification, please refer to that document.
 Mother India, 1957.
 Colleyn then translates his question for Rouch, but the question changes significantly from the original, ending with Comment tu est venu a l’idée de ne pas travailler comme des autres? Which means, how did you come to the idea of not working like the everybody else?
 A Fokker was a German plane used in WWI and WWII.
 You’re laughing, but it’s a true story! Absolutely true! Well, that’s the wonderful law of fate / chance.
 I’m not quite sure of all the words, but transcription is more or less correct. Translated: It’s us the Africans coming from far away / We left the colonies to liberate the land / We left behind us all our family and friends / because we have an invincible ardor in our hearts
 To pretend we were making a film; to pretend I was an anthropologist, to pretend there were no problems; to pretend I wasn’t afraid of death. It’s a very extraordinary rule, but I don’t think that it can create a very strong political movement. But after all, I don’t know anything about it and I wonder if the real politicians are capable of doing anything but pretending. [This last sentence is a bit ambiguous in French, but I think this is what he meant.]
 Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire – Fundamental Institute of Black Africa
 He might have meant “language” here, not “country.”
 Colonies françaises d’Afrique – French Colonies of Africa
 CFA actually stands for How Will We Do it Today?
 “That buffalo is preventing me from taking a shit,” which is a beautiful sentence
 He is referring to PhD candidates, not medical doctors.
 This is an advanced math class to help students prepare for entrance into les Grands Ecoles, France’s top schools.
 Dalarou, yet again, has conned us – that is to say, they’ve made us believe things that aren’t true.
 cinema is a permanent lie and that it is such a huge lie that we are forced to believe in it.
 Jean, you’ve really gone too far.
 You’ve gone too far, but it’s really great.
 For once the camera was in focus. Everything was okay. It worked really well. There was no problem.
 “From my point of view” here means “in my opinion.”
 Francoise, what’s the name on the credits of the editor who worked on this?
 By “big sayings” I think he means Songhay proverbs.