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CLOSE-UP: THE FILM IS THE SEARCH

Still from Jean Rouch’s Moi, un noir, 1958, 35 mm, color, sound, 80 minutes. Edward G. Robinson (Oumarou Ganda) and Dorothy Lamour (Mademoiselle Gambi).

NEW IDEAS in motion pictures typically arrive from the so-called margins. Thus, modern (or postmodern) cinema comes to Europe by way of Africa. Working out his own particular destiny as an ethnographic filmmaker in France’s West African colonies, Jean Rouch (1917–2004) invented the French New Wave.

A professional anthropologist with a long-standing interest in Surrealism and, by his own account, an early regular at the Cinémathèque Française, Rouch credited the introduction of the 16-mm format with the “revival of ethnographic films.” He himself became a filmmaker when he started packing a secondhand Bell & Howell found in a Paris flea market on his West African field trips in the mid-1950s. His first short efforts were distinguished by their pragmatic resourcefulness and a kind of honest sensationalism that bespoke an imagination closer to that of Luis Buñuel than to that of John

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